Following his conviction, Mr. Velazquez filed a pro se motion seeking appointment for appellate counsel. The Center for Apellate Litigation was assigned to represent Mr. Velazquez's appeal. In the course of its representation of Mr. Velazquez, the Center for Appellate Litigation commenced an investigation, beginning with an interview of eyewitness Augustus Brown, the young drug dealer, who after hours of questioning and threats by the police, picked Mr. Velazquez's photograph out of thousands in the CATCH unit. Prior to that identification, the name Jon-Adrian Velazquez had not been mentioned by anyone nor did it have any significance in the investigation of Albert Ward's murder.
Augustus Brown's Recantations
Augustus Brown Recants on June 2004 and March 2005
In June 2004 and again in March 2005, an investigator and an attorney working for the Center for Apellate Litigation interviewed Augustus Brown while he was incarcerated at Rikers Island. The substance of both interviews was the same. Mr. Brown stated that he was picked up on January 30, 1998, and taken to a police precinct, at which time he felt enormous pressure to identify someone from the CATCH photos. Based on the police officers' conduct and statements, he felt that the police were going to arrest him if he did not identify someone. Prior to that day, Brown had never been incarcerated and while at the precinct, he became extremely scared that he was going to be thrown in jail. He stated that he was at the precinct until 2:00 AM and just wanted to get out of there. Brown had 10 bags of drugs on him when he was brought in for questioning and stated that the police repeatedly threatened him with arrest for possession of the drugs and even accessory to the murder of Albert Ward if he did not cooperate.
Brown could not say why he chose the photograph of Jon-Adrian Velazquez, other than he thought he might have recognized him from the streets and thought that would make his identification sound stronger to the police. He stated that while he was viewing the CATCH photographs he might have said, "that's him," but that the truth was that he was not sure. Brown admitted that he only saw the perpetrator for a few seconds during the incident and was extremely scared at the time. He also said that he was high on drugs when he identified the CATCH photo and was also high when he testified at trial.
Brown told Barbara Zolot, Mr. Velazquez's appellate attorney, that the reason that he did not reveal his doubts to the prosecutor or the defense was that he was always concerned that the police would carry out their threats and try to connect him to the crime if he backed away from his identification of Mr. Velazquez.
Ms. Zolot subsequently attempted to obtain a signed affidavit from Augustus Brown swearing to the aforementioned statements. Brown repeatedly failed to respond to her requests.
Augustus Brown Recants Again on August 6, 2010
On August 6, 2010, a private investigator working on behalf ofÂ Gottlieb & Gordon, interviewed Augustus Brown at the Queensboro Correctional Facility. The sum and substance of that conversation was as follows:
Brown stated that a few days after the incident he was picked up by the police and taken to a precinct in Manhattan. Brown said that the detectives told him that they knew he was at the scene of the robbery/homicide. He was at the precinct for many hours and was instructed to look at photographs on a computer to see if he could recognize anyone involved in the robbery. Brown said that he looked at hundreds, if not thousands, of photographs. As he was viewing the photographs the police spoke to him as if he had something to do with the robbery. They told him that they knew he was involved in the murder and that if he did not give up the shooter he would go down for the murder.
Brown told the investigator that he was a young kid at the time and was very scared. He said that he felt that he had to select someone from the photographs or he was going to be blamed and arrested for the murder. Brown stated that he picked out the photograph of Jon-Adrian Velazquez because he just wanted to leave the precinct. He said that although Mr. Velazquez looked similar to the shooter, he had only seen the shooter's face for a few seconds and there was no way that he could be sure. Brown said that after he picked Mr. Velazquez's CATCH photo, the police immediately backed off and stopped threatening him and making him feel like a suspect in the murder.
The investigator requested that Mr. Brown provide an affidavit attesting to the above facts. Mr. Brown declined to state that he does not want to be involved to that extent.
Mr. Brown's recantation is enormously significant. Prior to Mr. Brown's identification of Mr. Velazquez's CATCH photograph, there was not one piece of evidence connecting Mr. Velazquez to the crime. Prior to his photo identification, every witness had described the shooter to police as "male black." Now, with Mr. Brown's selection of Jon-Adrian Velazquez, a Hispanic male, the remaining eyewitnesses were told to view a lineup consisting of Mr. Velazquez and five fillers, none of whom were "male blacks". In fact, even though the five fillers in the lineup were described as "Hispanic", three of them appear Caucasian. Even more significantly, none of the fillers even remotely resembled a light-skinned "black male".
One needs only to look at the photograph of the lineup to recognize the unfairness, prejudice and absurdity of this identification procedure. Again, every eyewitness, all of whom were black identified the shooter as a light-skinned "BLACK male" when first questioned by the police within hours or days of the incident. However, once Augustus Brown identified Mr. Velazquez, a Hispanic male, as the shooter, the eyewitnesses' initial descriptions were disregarded by the police and they were instructed to view only a lineup that did not include any black males.
Mr. Brown's recantation, therefore, begins to explain the chain of misidentifications of Mr. Velazquez that ultimately leads to his wrongful conviction. By the time the eyewitnesses testified at trial, they too "forgot" about their initial descriptions to the police, and instead adopted the description of the person who had been selected from the lineup. Some of the witnesses even went so far as to describe the shooter for the first time at trial as the "Puerto Rican" guy although not one of the eyewitnesses referred to the shooter as either Hispanic or Puerto Rican in their statements to the police. Mr. Brown's recantation renders the subsequent identifications of the remaining eyewitnesses who viewed the same lineup, highly suspicious and of very little value.
Phillip Jones's Sworn Recantation
Phillip Jones was interviewed by an investigator working for Gottlieb & GordonÂ on April 21, 2010. Mr. Jones told the investigator that he has thought about this case every day because he feels that the person he picked from the lineup was not the shooter. Mr. Jones described his feelings that when the detectives questioned him, he felt that they were trying to manipulate him into admitting that he and his brother stole money that had been lying next to Albert Ward after he was shot.
Phillip Jones stated that a few days after the shooting the police called him, said "we got em" and told him he needed to go to the precinct to view a lineup. Mr. Jones said he felt pressured to pick someone at the lineup and that when he picked Mr. Velazquez out of the lineup, it was because he thought he looked like the shooter, but was not positive.
Mr. Jones said that when the police picked him up from prison, contrary to proper identification protocol, they assured him that they had the "right guy". He said that the police promised to talk to the parole board about getting him released early and that had no choice but to testify against Mr. Velazquez. Mr. Jones stated that when he testified at trial he felt something was wrong. He admitted that he remembers saying to himself, "God, I got the wrong guy".
Phillip Jones agreed to sign a sworn written statement which reads as follows:
Under the penalties of perjury I declare the following is true and I am under no duress providing this statement. I have asked Private Investigator Joseph P. Dwyer to write this statement and will provide any signature indicating the accuracy of this statement.
On 1/27/98 I was present at 2335 8th Ave. NY, NY. I witnessed my friend Albert Ward get shot and killed. On 2/2/98 I viewed a lineup in which I picked out an individual as being the shooter. I picked out this man because I thought the man looked like the shooter but I was not sure. I told the police this was the guy and I was sure, but this was not the truth. I felt pressured because the police were threatening to arrest me and my brother Robert for stealing money that Albert Ward dropped on the floor after being shot. I was arrested sometime after Albert Ward was killed and two detectives came to visit me upstate in Groveland Prison. The detectives told me they got the right guy and would help me get parole. I decided to testify at the trial because I felt pressured by the police. When I saw the deft. in court, I looked in his eyes and knew I had picked out the wrong guy, and the guy on trial I had never seen before. I also remember prior to viewing the lineup the police told me the shooter had a twin brother, but they were sure they had the right guy.
Mr. Jones' statement is consistent with the recantation of Augustus Brown, as well as the absence of any physical evidence linking Mr. Velazquez to the robbery and murder of Albert Ward.
Lorenzo Woodford Believes He Might Have Made A Mistake In Identifying Mr. Velazquez
In May 2010, an investigator working for the Gottlieb & Gordon, met with Lorenzo Woodford. Mr. Woodford stated that at the time he identified Mr. Velazquez he was strung out on heroin and cocaine and was extremely angry because the shooter had pointed a gun in his face and stolen his money. He said that he was blinded by anger and hate then but now he is older, more open-minded and can think more clearly. He said that there a lot factors in his life that would be different if he had to identify a person today. Mr. Woodford concedes that he certainly could have made a mistake in identifying Mr. Velazquez. In fact, after being shown the photo array that was shown to Dorothy Canady, Mr. Woodford stated that he would have said the shooter looked more like two of the other individuals depicted in that photograph than Mr. Velazquez.
Robert Jones Remembers Thinking That Mr. Velazquez'z Brother Looked More Like The Shooter Than Mr. Velazquez
An investigator working for the Gottlieb & Gordon, met with Robert Jones. Mr. Jones stated that prior to the lineup he reeived a call from a detective informing him that they had the shooter and wanted him to come down to the precinct to look at him in a lineup. Robert Jones conceded that based upon what the police said to him, when he looked at the individuals in the lineup he assumed that one of them was the shooter. He said that when he viewed the lineup and noticed that he didn't have braids he had a discussion with the cops and they said "he must've cut his hair and gotten rid of the braids." Robert Jones stated that he asked how they got him and was told that Augustus Brown knew him and told them where he lived.
Robert Jones also remembers that at some point the police told him Mr. Velazquez's father was a transit cop and that the gun was used to shoot Albert Ward was Velazquez's father's. (Mr. Velazquez's father was in fact a retired police officer with Amtrak. The police recovered Mr. Ve;azquez's father's gun and it was determined that it was not the used to shoot Albert Ward.)
Robert Jones said that he was sure he picked the right man from the lineup until he was at the trial and saw Mr. Velazquez's brother in the hallway. He said that when he looked at the brother in the courtroom things started to change in his mind. He said that he thought to himself, "maybe I have the wrong guy". The cops told him that Mr. Velasquez had a twin brother and when he saw the brother in the hallway he immediately thought, "why didn't they grab him?". He distinctly remembers looking at the brother in the audience and thinking, "that's him". Mr. Jones said that when he looked at Mr. Velazquez in the courtroom he looked slimmer and taller than the shooter. He went on to state that if the brother had been placed in the lineup with Mr. Velazquez, he would have picked the brother.
Mr. Jones told the investigator that the brother should be investigated. In fact, he said it has always been in the back of his mind that Mr. Velazquez could be the wrong man.
The Police Failed To Follow Up On Leads
Within two days of the homicide, three independent sources notified the police that an individual named "Mustafa", who matched the description given by all the eyewitnesses, was the person who shot and killed Albert Ward. Nonetheless, based upon the DD5s the police did nothing of any meaningful substance to pursue this lead. Once Augustus Brown selected Mr. Velazquez's photograph in the CATCH unit, it appears that the police ceased any investigation to locate "Mustafa".
Review of the DD5s reflect that on January 28, 1998, the police, in response to the information received from multiple sources that "MUSTAFA" was the shooter, did a search, they ran a nickname search for "MUSTAPHA". This search using PH resulted in only three names. If the District Attorney's Office runs a nickname search today using the spelling "Mustafa", a significantly greater number of individuals with criminal records residing in the general area of the murder will be found. This should be one of the first areas of a re-opened investigation into Albert Ward's murder.
Furthermore, through the work of private investigators, an individual by the name of Phillip Torrence, who is also known as "Mustafa" has been uncovered. Torrence has numerous arrests dating back to 1996 ranging from drug and weapon possession to burglary, many of which were in the confines of the 28th Precinct in the area surrounding Albert Ward's numbers spot. Torrence was also a suspect in a murder in 2005. Torrence is a light skinned male black and through private investigations have determined that in 1998 he wore his hair in braids. He was recently released from Queensboro Correctional Facility after serving eight months for Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the 3rd Degree and is currently on parole.
Without question, an investigation into this "Mustafa" is imperative at this time.
The police received an anonymous tip that an individual named Victor Gibson ordered the hit on Albert Ward. The police identified two individuals with the name Victor Gibson, but based on the DD5s, it does not appear that any additional investigation was conducted.
Through private investigators, a third Victor Gibson has been identified. This individual is a light skinned male black with braids and facial hair who is currently incarcerated having been arrested for Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the 5th Degree (with intent to sell), Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the 2nd (Loaded Firearm), Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the 3rd Degree (Defacing Weapons), Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the 3rd Degree (Previous Conviction) and Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the 4th Degree. In light of the above, an investigation into the background of this Victor Gibson is certainly warranted.
An investigator working for the Gottlieb & GordonÂ spoke with the co-defendant's brother, Dennis Daniels. Dennis Daniels stated that his brother did not know Jon-Adrian Velazquez and that his brother pled guilty and implicated Mr. Velazquez for fear of facing a life sentence if convicted at trial. This, combined with the lack of any statements by Derry Daniels implicating Mr. Velazquez and his failure to testify at Mr. Velazquez's trial, speaks volumes. The fact that Daniels and Jon-Adrian Velazquez did not know each other before the day of Albert Ward's murder makes it highly unlikely that they would commit, as a team, a planned robbery of the numbers spot, as alleged by the People.