Four New York men walked out of prison Wednesday after being wrongfully convicted of murder in two unrelated cases and spending a combined total of 74 years behind bars.
Michael Cosme, Devon Ayers and Carlos Perez were exonerated last month after being convicted in the 1995 murder of a livery cabdriver in the Bronx. Eric Glisson and Cathy Watkins, who had also been convicted of the same crime, walked out of prison last month after two gang members confessed to the killing. The New York Times reported Cosme, Ayers and Perez were held in prison until Wednesday in connection with the death of a FedEx executive, but prosecutors admitted in court “that the convictions then must be vacated.”
The three were freed without bail, but the judge did not dismiss their original indictment, giving prosecutors 90 days to find new evidence that could be used in a second trial. The murder of the FedEx executive took place in the same neighborhood of the cabdriver’s death and just three days after.
Still, the threat of imprisonment didn’t seem to affect the three newly freed men, who were approaching their twentieth year in prison. Cosme, Ayers and Perez wept as they embraced each other as the verdict was read aloud in court.
The five men were originally convicted after a trial in which the prosecution alleged they had planned on killing both the cabdriver and executive, a case helped by testimony from a teenager, Cathy Gomez, claiming she heard the men plotting and another witness who said she saw one of the murders take place.
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Gomez later recanted her statement claiming she was under duress at the time.
Perez told the Times he would try to “make up for lost time” with his son. Cosme, who reported his present anger at the conviction, struggled to walk as young family members held onto his legs.
“I’ve been innocent, and I’ve been fighting all these years,” Cosme said. “I lost a lot.”
Glisson and Watkins expressed a similar sentiment last month when they regained their freedom. Glisson said he is “looking forward” and already enrolled at Mercy College.
“I describe this as I’m free from the prison plantation,” Watkins told NY1. “That’s how I describe this.”
Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, William Lopez told the Wall Street Journal his “faith and belief that one day this moment would come” was responsible for his freedom. Now 54, Lopez had spent the last 23 years in prison after being convicted of killing a man during a Coney Island robbery, despite the star witness in his trial later admitting she had been awake for two days on a crack binge when she testified.
Whereas prosecutors in the first case admitted the exonerations were necessary, the state attorneys in Lopez’s case vowed to appeal the court’s decision and even retry him if necessary.
“Any discussion of Lopez’s case must begin with the weakness the evidence of the prosecution presented at trial,” the judge wrote.
Lopez was handed a MetroCard on his way out of the courthouse by lawyer Richard Levitt, who signed on after Lopez represented himself for years.
“I have never seen one of these before, other than on television,” Lopez said. “But I’ll learn, I’ll learn how to use it quickly.”