This is a brief article about a local exoneration based on new information about flawed arson science. I have pasted in the article below in case you cannot access the link.
3 Men Imprisoned in 1980 Brooklyn Arson Case Are Exonerated
The exonerations of Amaury Villalobos, left, and William Vasquez in a 1980 Brooklyn arson case was celebrated in State Supreme Court. From left, Adele Bernhard, a lawyer, with Mr. Villalobos; Rita Dave, a lawyer, with Mr. Vasquez; and Mr. Mora’s widow, Janet Mora, and their daughter, Eileen Mora.
Three men were cleared on Wednesday of setting a 1980 fire in Park Slope, Brooklyn, that caused the death of a mother and her five children, after the sole eyewitness was deemed unreliable and new understanding of the evidence fires leave behind was applied.
Two of the men had each spent almost 33 years in prison on arson and murder charges, the longest time served by any defendant whose conviction has been vacated under Ken Thompson, the Brooklyn district attorney. The third defendant died in prison.
Now 70 and 66, the surviving defendants, William Vasquez and Amaury Villalobos, stood in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn. Next to them stood the widow and daughter of the third defendant, Raymond Mora. His daughter, who was 7 when he died in prison in 1989, held up a photo of her father.
“I don’t know how this case managed to proceed,” Assistant District Attorney Mark J. Hale, who oversees the Conviction Review Unit in the office, told Justice Matthew J. D’Emic as he asked him to vacate the men’s convictions.
In February 1980, a townhouse at 695 Sackett Street burned to the ground. The third-floor tenants, a mother and her five young children, were killed.
The townhouse’s owner, Hannah Quick, immediately told the police that it had been arson and that she had heard the three defendants inside the townhouse just before the fire, then saw them walk out.
Ms. Quick, a drug dealer, said she had been feuding with one or two of the men over drugs.
Mr. Hale said her account was “implausible, almost unbelievable,” because it did not comport with the evidence and had inconsistencies.
As she was dying, Ms. Quick told her daughter that she had lied about the men’s involvement in the fire. Mr. Hale said in an interview on Tuesday that Ms. Quick’s motives to lie may have included liability and an insurance payment that she received (though she testified at the men’s trial that she did not receive such a payment).
A fire marshal found what he testified was evidence of arson, but Mr. Hale said evolving fire science meant that the 1980 analysis did not hold up today. Experts’ reports that Mr. Villalobos’s lawyer and the district attorney’s office commissioned as they re-examined the case showed no evidence of arson.
The office’s investigation found that addicts who bought heroin from the witness had prepped the drug over open flames on the townhouse’s first floor, that the floor was lit only by candles and that Ms. Quick had her own connection to the electrical grid, suggesting the fire might well have been an accident.
“These men were wrongfully convicted,” Mr. Hale said.
In a news conference after the hearing, Mr. Thompson said, “This is a case that shouldn’t have been brought, and we have to own up to that.”
After Justice D’Emic granted the motion, the courtroom spectators began clapping, and several stood to applaud.
Afterward, Mr. Vasquez, who had been wiping tears from behind his dark glasses while in court — he developed glaucoma in prison, which a lawyer said was untreated, and he is now blind — used a cane to navigate down the courthouse hallway.
“Those are years that nothing in the world can give me back, no money, no nothing,” Mr. Vasquez said after the proceeding. “It’s just like I lost myself in prison, I lost 33 and a half years of my life. I went in at 30, I come out at 65, so...” Mr. Vasquez shook his head and his sentence trailed off.
Mr. Villalobos said he had been denied parole several times because he refused to show remorse for a crime he had not committed. Still, he said: “I’m not angry. Why would you be angry? I know they did something bad to me, but God is there.”
His wife, Ernesta, who testified at his trial that she had been with him the night of the fire and who stayed with him throughout his time in prison, said she felt “happy, happy, happy, happy.”
Eileen Mora, Mr. Mora’s daughter, said she had “some sweet memories” of her father, who died of a heart attack in 1989.
“My father was a good man, and I’m glad we got to prove it today in court,” she said, her voice shaking. “There’s no better Christmas gift that I can get than to say that my dad was innocent, and now everybody knows.”
Mr. Villalobos, who like Mr. Vasquez has been out on parole since 2012, said he thought “all the time” that he would get his conviction vacated. In 2012, he contacted New York Law School, where Adele Bernhard, a law professor and director of the Post-Conviction Innocence Clinic, and her students worked on the case.
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