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The Trial of Jon-Adrian Velazquez

The trial in People v. Jon-Adrian Velazquez, Indictment Number 693/98, commenced before the Honorable Jeffrey M. Atlas on October 14, 1999 and lasted approximately two weeks. The People called twenty witnesses which included seven witnesses present at the time of the incident, the victim's sister and twelve police witnesses. The defense called six witnesses, including Mr. Velazquez.

The first of the seven witnesses present at the scene to be called was Augustus Brown. Mr. Brown did not testify at the trial voluntarily. After ignoring telephone messages from the ADA informing him that he was needed as a witness at trial, Augustus Brown was physically taken into custody in Pennsylvania by New York City detectives and transported to New York pursuant to a material witness order. Brown was held at the Bronx House of Detention for six days before he testified as a People's witness. It was only after Augustus Brown's direct examination was completed that the People consented to him being permitted to voluntarily return to court the next day.

Augustus Brown testified that on the day of the incident, January 27, 1998, he was 20 years old and was on probation for a conviction of criminal possession of a controlled substance, having pled guilty on November 8, 1995. At that point Brown's criminal history included multiple arrests for Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Third Degree, Criminal Impersonation in the Second Degree, Reckless Endagerment, Resisiting Arrest and Rape in the First Degree. Brown testified that he had stopped reporting to his probation officer at some point in 1996 in violation of his probation conditions and that the detective questioning him about the murder indicated that he was aware of his criminal record.

Brown testified that immediately after the shooting at the numbers spot, he fled the scene and went home. He did not wait for the police to arrive or make himself available for questioning. Instead, he stayed in his house for two days and then resumed selling drugs on Eighth Avenue.

Robert Jones testified that he saw Augustus Brown the day after the shooting and told him, "You better go to the precinct because they're looking for you, you know." Robert Jones testified that Augustus Brown responded, "I can't go to the precinct. I have a warrant." In stark contrast to Mr. Jones' testimony and despite acknowledging that he had wilfully stopped reporting to his probation officer, on cross-examination Brown denied any knowledge that he was in violation of his probation at the time of the shooting

While selling drugs on Eighth Avenue on January 30, 1998, Brown was approached by plainclothes detectives and taken to the 28th Precinct for questioning regarding the homicide of Albert Ward. Brown testified that he was questioned by the detectives for hours and that from the beginning of the interrogation he was told that if he didn't cooperate he "was going down" or words to that effect. At trial, when asked if he threatened Brown in any manner, Detective LiTenta responded, "I had a conversation with him. How he took it, I don't know."

Brown initially testified that his first description of the shooter was simply "light-skinned." However, on cross-examination Brown admitted that the first description he gave to Detective Mooney was of a light-skinned "male black." Brown's initial description was recorded by Detective Mooney in both a written statement signed by Brown and DD5 #98.

Detective LiTrenta, the lead detective on the case, testified that Augustus Brown told him that the shooter was a light skinned Hispanic male. LiTrenta further testified that he had not read Brown's statement to Detective Mooney describing the gunman as "male black" prior to showing Brown photos of Hispanic males in the CATCH unit.

Detective LiTrenta testified that Augustus Brown looked at approximately 1600 CATCH photos and identified the photograph of Jon-Adrian Velazquez after viewing approximately 800 of those photographs. Detective LiTrenta stated that after selecting Mr. Velazquez's photograph, Augustus Brown stated that he recognized him from a few years earlier in the area of 95th Street and Amsterdam. This was the first time Brown indicated to anyone that he recognized Mr. Velazquez from somewhere other than the location of the crime.

Detective Robert Mooney took Brown's initial statement when he was brought to the 28th Precinct. Detective Mooney was called as a defense witness and was asked:

Q: Did he tell you anything at all about the fact that he supposedly had seen that person on a prior occasion?

Detective Mooney answered:

A: No, he didn't.

Despite Brown stating that he recognized Mr. Velazquez from having seen him a few years earlier, he told the detective that the perpetrators' eyes were light brown and that the shade of Velazquez's eyes in the CATCH photo was not what he remembered of the perpetrator's. Additionally, on cross-examination, Brown confirmed that the perpetrator had light brown eyes and when he looked at Mr. Velazquez in the courtroom stated, "No, from over here they don't look light." In addition to the gunman having light brown eyes, Brown also testified that when he pointed the gun at Brown he was holding it in his right hand with his arm extended. Jon-Adrian Velazquez is left handed.

Detective LiTrenta conceded that once Mr. Velazquez was arrested he did not focus on the initial descriptions given by the witnesses.

The People's Witnesses: Dorothy Canady

The second eyewitness to be called by the People was Dorothy Canady. Ms. Canady's testimony was confused and inconsistent with the prior statements she had given to the police. Initially, she told the police that there were three perpetrators. At trial she testified that she didn't think there was a third man, but that when it happened she remembered more clearly, as she had tried to "throw it out" of her mind since then. Ms. Canady testified in detail as to a conversation she had with the gunman when he told them to lay on the floor and again when the men asked for their money. Specifically, Ms. Canady testified that when the gunman told them to lay down she said, "I cannot lay on the floor...may I sit up and speak to you?" to which the gunman responded, "yes". She further testified that in response to their demanding money she stated, "Did you see me come up here with a pocketbook?" and when the gunman responded "no" she said, "My pockets got holes in it. It won't even hold the keys, so how can you ask me for some money?" In contrast to Ms. Canady's description of the dialogue between herself and the gunman, another witness, Matty Alex, testified that Ms. Canady was begging for her life and telling the perpetrators about her children. Ms. Alex further testified that the perpetrators told Ms. Canady "I'm not going to bother you."

When asked to describe the gunman at trial, Ms. Canady said that he was light-skinned with a round face with thin sideburns and a goatee. When asked by the prosecutor if he was black, white, Hispanic or Asian, Ms. Canady said Spanish. However, a short time later on cross-examination she conceded that the day after the incident when asked to describe the gunman, she described him as being a black male. When questioned about the second perpetrator that she had described as a male black with a dark complexion she responded, "Yes, that's the other Spanish fellow, dark." The second perpetrator, Derry Daniels, was dark-skinned, and very clearly a black male.

The most striking testimony of Ms. Canady was when she asked to identify the shooter in the courtroom. Ms. Canady identified juror number six as the gunman. The exchange was as follows:

Q: I'd like you to look around the courtroom and tell us whether you see the fellow who had the gun in court right now?

A: The one with the white shirt on (indicating).

Q: Over here in the jury box?

A: Yes

Q: I'd like you to look at the whole courtroom -

MR. GOULD: For the record

THE COURT: Yes we have to make a record.

Ma'am, you said the one with the white shirt on. Are you looking over to the right in the jury box, this group of people?

THE WITNESS: Right here.

THE COURT: The fellow with the white shirt, indicating juror number six?


Q: Ma'am, I'd like you to look around the whole courtroom, Miss Canady. I'd like you to look around the whole courtroom. (Brief pause)

Q: And what's your answer?

A: I still say -

Q: Do you believe this person in the person that's -

A: Yes.

In addition to failing to identify Mr. Velazquez at trial, Ms. Canady had previously failed to identify him in a photo array and in a lineup, as mentioned above. However, at trial, she testified that at some point in the days after the lineup she remembered what the gunman looked like and that he had been in position two at the lineup. On cross-examination she testified, "Then it came to me. I remember the guy, what he looked like... The dark fellow." She was then asked, "The dark fellow is the on you recognize?" To which she replied, "Yeah, I remember, but I can't remember the third fellow. I don't think it was the third one. I don't think so. I don't know." In sum, Ms. Canady's testimony at trial did nothing to inculpate Mr. Velazquez as one of the perpetrators.

The People's Witnesses: Matty Alex

The next eyewitness called by the People was Matty Alex. At the time of trial, Ms. Alex was sixty-nine years old. Ms. Alex testified that she did not see either of the perpetrators because she had her back to them when she heard "It's a hold up" and just eased down to the floor. She testified that she was facing the wall with her eyes closed the entire time and never say either of the perpetrators. Clearly, Ms. Alex's testimony did nothing to inculpate Mr. Velazquez in the murder of Albert Ward.

The People's Witness: Joe Scott

Joe Scott was the next eyewitness called by the People. Mr. Scott testified that he was at the numbers spot that day to play a number. He stated that he was present when the person, later identified as the gunman, initially came to the door to play a number. Mr. Scott testified that this man was present at the numbers spot for approximately five minutes and that when the man left he walked out right behind him. When asked by the People if he could describe the man for the jury, Mr. Scott replied, "I don't know." Mr. Scott was not present when this individual returned to the numbers spot later that afternoon. Mr. Scott also testified that he was asked to view a lineup and that he selected the individual in position six because he "looked like the person that was there."

Mr. Velazquez was not the individual standing in the sixth position. Mr. Scott's testimony did not inculpate Mr. Velazquez in the murder of Albert Ward.

The People's Witness: Robert Jones

The next eyewitness to be called by the People was Robert Jones. Robert Jones was working at the numbers spot taking numbers on the day of the homicide and was the person who interacted with the gunman when he first entered to play a number at approximately 12:00 PM on January 27, 1998. Robert Jones was also present when the gunman returned with the dark-skinned male and eventually shot Albert Ward. Robert Jones had a few prior arrests, all related to illegal gambling.

When asked if he saw the light-skinned male in the courtroom, Robert Jones stated, "That's him," indicating Mr. Velazquez. The prosecutor then asked Mr. Jones if he recognized the person who he had picked out of the lineup on February 2, 1998. Mr. Jones began to identify Mr. Velazquez and then asked Mr. Velazquez if he could stand up. After a brief pause, Mr. Jones stated, "Looks like him, okay."

Robert Jones acknowledged that he told the police that the shooter was a light-skinned black male when he was initially questioned and that he signed a written statement to that effect. He further acknowledged that it was from his description that a sketch was prepared, in his presence of the shooter. He also testified that he reviewed the sketch when it was complete and that below the sketch was a section that described the individual as a "male blank." He made no correction to the description. Additionally, Mr. Jones picked out a CATCH photo of another individual that he stated resembled the shooter. The CATCH photo depicted a black male. Despite these facts, during his testimony at trial, Robert Jones repeatedly referred to the shooter as a light-skinned "Puerto Rican." Robert Jones also testified before the Grand Jury. Not once during his Grand Jury testimony did he describe the shooter as Puerto Rican.

Additionally, Detective Mooney, called as a defense witness, testified that when he questioned Robert Jones within a few hours of the crime, Mr. Jones described the gunman as a black male and at no time described him as being Puerto Rican.

The People's Witness: Phillip Jones

Phillip Jones was next to testify for the People. Mr. Jones had a history of drug arrests and was admittedly using crack cocaine in January 1998. At the time he testified, Jones was serving a state prison sentence for felony possession of narcotics. In exchange for his testimony, the People provided Mr. Jones with a cooperation agreement wherein the District Attorney's Office agreed to make it known to the Parole Board, within 30 days of the completion of the trial, that Mr. Jones testified as a witness for the People. Additionally, the People agreed to make arrangements for the expeditious transport of Mr. Jones back to the State Prison to which he was assigned stating that "[t]he parties contemplate that police detective may be assigned to drive Phillip Jones from New York City to the State Prison."

Phillip Jones testified that in speaking to the police after the shooting he described the shooter as a light-skinned black male. He also testified that the shooter had long braided hair. Nonetheless, when asked if he had any doubt that Mr. Velazquez was the man with the gun, despite him being a Hispanic male and despite evidence introduced at trial that established Mr. Velazquez had short, cropped hair at the time of the incident, Phillips replied "[t]here's no doubt about it." Not surprisingly, Phillip Jones also testified that he was "[a]bsolutely a hundred percent certain" that Al Ward's gun never went off, despite the testimony of his brother Robert Jones and physical evidence to the contrary.

The People's Witness: Lorenzo Woodford

The final eyewitness to testify for the People was Lorenzo Woodford. In the months following the homicide, Mr. Woodford was homeless, unemployed and regularly injecting himself with heroin. He would occasionally check in with Detective LiTrenta on a few occasions about being a cooperating witness on narcotics cases. One month after the homicide, the People sent a letter to Grand Central Station - Partnership for the Homeless describing Mr. Woodford as a witness in a homicide case who has become homeless as a result of "victimization." The letter requested that the agency provide him with the assistance that he "has also been having financial difficulty and is in desperate need of emergency services."

As the trial approached, the People had difficulty locating Woodford and eventually found him living in an abandoned building. In exchange for Woodford's agreement to testify at trial, the People provided him with a hotel room, meal money, and clothes. At trial, Woodford admitted he used heroin from the time he was twelve years old until approximately one year prior to his testimony, at which time he was fifty-five years old. Woodford testified that in January 1998, during the time of the homicide, he was using a couple of bags of heroin a day.

Woodfored testified that earlier in the day on January 27, 1998, he was hanging out at a bar, also owned by Albert Ward, playing a poker machine. When he won on the poker machine the barmaid called Albert Ward at the numbers spot and Ward told her to have Woodford come there to pick up his winnings. On his way there he ran into Augustus Brown (known to him as A,J.) from whom he frequently purchased drugs. He told Brown to go with him to the spot so that he could buy drugs from him.

Upon entering the numbers spot, Woodford introduced Augustus Brown to Al Ward and the two of them went into a back room to play the poker machines. While in the back room Woodford stated that he heard loud voices yelling, "where's the money" and he and Brown got up to see what was going on. Woodford testified that when he stepped out of the backroom, he saw a man with a gun and another taping everybody's hands up. Woodford stated that one of the men told him to "get over here on the floor" and pointed the gun in his face while the other man, who was dark-skinned, took a twenty-dollar bill out of his hand. Woodford testified that he and Brown got on their hands and knees while the dark-skinned man continued to tape the others and the man with the gun went into the back room.

Woodford further testified that the dark-skinned man then began searching Brown and yelled to the other man, "they got a gun." Woodford stated that the gunman then came running out of the backroom, shot at someone in back of him and upon seeing the dark-skinned man holding Al Ward and yelling "this one, this one" reached over and shot Ward. Woodford testified that when the gunman shot Al Ward it was "real close", so close that Al Ward's hair caught on fire. He stated that he saw him fire one time in the direction of someone diving over the bar, and one time in Al Ward's head. On cross-examination Woodford again testified that he saw the gunman shoot Albert Ward - specifically, his testimony was as follows:

Q: Now, now, sir, you told us what you say happened in that spot. You told us how, and you said this young man you're positive of fired a gun, is that right?

A: Yes.

Q: Did you see him fire the gun?

A: Yes, I did.

Woodford further testified that he never saw Al Ward with a gun and that he never heard another gun go off before the gunman fired his gun. Specifically, Woodford's testimony as follows:

Q: Did you see Mr. Al with a pistol in his hand?

A: No.

Q: Did you hear a pistol shot go off before you say you saw this young man do anything?

A: No.

Woodfrod's testimony at trial blatantly contradicted his testimony before the grand jury. In the grand jury, Woodford testified that the first shot he heard was Al Ward's gun when Al and the dark-skinned man were wrestling over it.

Specifically, Woodford testified:

A: As he was searching AJ, when he saw Al with the gun, he step over me, Al stood up, Al had the gun in his hand, he was trying to get it from Al..."

Additionally, in the grand jury, Woodford testified that he did not see who fired the shot that hit Al Ward. Woodford's grand jury testimony was as follows:

Q: Mr. Woodford, you have indicated that you heard shots being fired and that Al was shot, did you see and were you watching when the shot was fired that hit Al, did you see who fired that shot?


Immediately following the shooting, Woodford testified that he walked out of the building, went across the street and bought a few bags of heroin, all of which he injected that evening. Woodford testified that although he saw police gathering and knew they were investigating the shooting, he did not voluntarily speak with the police. In fact, Woodford did not speak to anyone who had been present at the time of the shooting until Robert Jones found him three days later, told him the police were looking for him and forced him to go with him to the police station.

Woodford couldn't recall the description of the gunman he initially gave to the police. However, upon having his recollection refreshed with a document, he confirmed that his initial description to the police was of a light-skinned black male with two to two and a half-inch braids. Woodford stated that Mr. Velazquez looked a lot different at trial than he did on January 27, 1998.

The Defense Case

On the defense case, evidence was offered of an alibi. Specifically, Mr. Velazquez and his mother both testified that they were on the telephone with one another for seventy-four minutes beginning at 11:44 AM and ending at 12:58 PM. Mr. Velazquez stated that he was speaking to his mother from home, specifically, the home of his girlfriend, Iris Cepero, with whom he lived at the time. Telephone records introduced at trial confirm that a seventy-four minute call was made from Ms. Cepero's home phone number in the Bronx to Maria Velazquez's phone number at 11:44 AM. Consequently, Mr. Velazquez could not have been present at the numbers spot at 12:00 PM, the time at which Robert Jones testified the gunman first entered to play a number.

Both Mr. Velazquez and his mother testified that the reason they remember the telephone call was that Mr. Velazquez's father had died nine months earlier and they were planning to go to the cemetery the next day, January 28, 1998, as it was his father's birthday. They testified that the reason their telephone conversation lasted seventy-four minutes was that Mr. Velazquez's mother and his girlfriend, Iris Cepero, had previously had an argument and were not speaking to one another. Mr. Velazquez's conversation with his mother largely consisted of his trying to iron things out between the two women so that they could go to the cemetery together with the next day.

Ms. Cepero testified consistently with Mr. Velazquez and his mother that Mr. Velazquez was home with her that day until approximately 3:30 PM when she left the apartment. However, on cross-examination the People questioned Ms. Cepero regarding a statement she allegedly gave to Detectives Giorgio and LiTrenta in May 1998. Specifically, Ms. Cepero was asked if she told the detectives that she was asleep from approximately 8:00 AM the morning of January 27, 1998 until 1:30 PM. Ms. Cepero denied having made such a statement to the detectives and further testified that when the detectives came to her apartment that day they were banging on her door talking very loudly and said that if she didn't let them in they were going to say her business in the hallway. Ms. Cepero testified that she let them in, but refused to answer their questions on the advice of her lawyer.

The People called Detectives Giorgio and LiTrenta as rebuttal witnesses. Detective Giorgio was the District Attorney's investigator and affirmed that he was aware the People had received Alibi Notice and that the purpose of their visit to Ms. Cepero's apartment was to see what she was going to say at trial.

Specifically, Detective Giorgio testified:

Q: You and Detective LiTrenta went out would it be fair to say in order to see if you could interview the alibi witness?

A: Yes.

Q: With a view towards gathering evidence that could be used by a prosecutor?

A: To gather evidence. I don't know if it was - used or not used by the prosecutor is an opinion. We were out there to ask him what it was that they were going to testify at trial.

Detective LiTrenta, on the other hand, denied having gone to Ms. Cepero's apartment to interview her as an alibi witness. LiTrenta's testimony was as follows:

Q: Why?

A: Why did I speak to Iris?

Q: Why did you go?

A: Yes, that was several months after the incident and after reviewing the case I realized I never spoke to her, so I made a decision to maybe speak to her to see what she had to say.

Q: You made the decision, sir?

A: Yes, I did.

Q: And do you know why the District Attorney's investigator - withdraw that. Did you ask the District Attorney's investigator to be sent with you?

A: I personally asked Detective Giorgio to accompany me. I used to work with Detective Giorgio in the 3-4 Squad before he retired and is now working in the District Attorney's office.

Detectives Giorgio and LiTrenta testified that they knocked on the door, Ms. Cepero let them in and was very cooperative, answering all their questions. They stated that she said on January 27, 1998, she was sleeping from approximately 8:00 AM until 1:30 PM and that Mr. Velazquez was home with her and their children the entire time. Although nothing in Ms. Cepero's alleged statement to the detectives rebutted Mr. Velazquez's alibi, the People characterized it as a "fundamentally different" alibi in their closing arguments.

Photograph of Mr. Velazquez Taken Two Weeks Before The Incident

In addition to offering evidence of an alibi, the defense introduced a photograph of Mr. Velazquez taken two weeks prior to the incident when his infant son was hospitalized shortly after birth for an infection. In the photograph. Mr. Velazquez's hair is cut very short. It would have been impossible for him to have grown hair long enough to braid, as the witnesses described, within two weeks of the date of the photograph.

The Verdict And Sentence

Despite a complete lack of credible evidence of Mr. Velazquez's involvement in the murder of Albert Ward, based solely on eyewitness identifications after three days of deliberations, he was acquitted of first-degree murder, but convicted of second-degree murder, robbery and attempted robbery. On March 7, 2000, Mr. Velazquez was sentenced to an indeterminate sentence of 25 years to life on the murder and concurrent terms of imprisonment on the remaining counts. Prior to imposing sentence, the Court asked Mr. Velazquez if he had anything to say before sentencing. He made the following statement:

"First of all, I'd like to begin by expressing my deepest sympathies to the family of the deceased. There is no way to handle the loss of a loved one that easily. At this time I know first hand because I too lost someone special in my life, it was my father. He was my best friend because the only thing that - basically, the only thing that keeps me at peace is knowing that he is at peace. You see, they both are with God, and their souls are finally at peace. When you look down, keep that in mind. That's what helped me get over all these years every day."

"I can't understand why I'm here in this courtroom. I've served over two years for this crime and I'm in jail for a crime that I did not commit. As God's witness, I had absolutely nothing to do with this crime. Nothing at all. I had nothing to do with any of the victims in this case. They've made allegations against me which I feel are completely false. I've never met these people. I've never been in such a spot. I've never even heard of it. And that's basically how I feel about it."

"In my eyes, the justice system played some type of game. I mean it wasn't designed by anybody here. It's just something that we follow through with throughout the years, and I really don't take this as a game. This is my life. And for those that do look at it as some type of game, winners and losers, there will be no winners here. You see, how I see it, the lawyers are like competitors. You know. The system's been around for many years. Sometimes it's been successful, but other times it's not. Where does that leave me, and many others who have been in my position, and who are going to be in my position? There have been many innocent men convicted before me. I'm sure I won't be the last. I don't see how condemning an innocent man's life deserves justice for the loss of another innocent man's life. To me, it doesn't. And I feel it's wrong."

"Like I said earlier, there will be no winners in this court today. We are all losers. We have not found your killer yet. Instead, an innocent man will go on to serve a life sentence, while the murderer remains at large. Is that justice? I don't think so. But I do pray that God gives everyone in this courtroom blessings they need to proceed in life. One day he may bring the truth out so that all of us may be at peace."

Thank you for listening to what I have to say. I sincerely hope one day you find your man."