In separate proceedings, two federal judges have seriously questioned the ethics of a top aide to Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, along with Hynes’ inaction despite evidence of a gross injustice.
The judges — one in 2010 and one last week — targeted the conduct of prosecutor Michael Vecchione in sending Jabbar Collins to prison for 15 years on a wrongful murder conviction.
Collins was released after Hynes dropped charges against him, sparing Vecchione from having to take the witness stand before Judge Dora Irizzary. From behind bars, Collins had amassed grounds to believe that Vecchione had relied on false testimony to send him away, and he had put the material before Irizzary.
Since then, Collins has waged a $150 million suit that seeks to hold Hynes, Vecchione and the city liable for allegedly railroading him. While Hynes and Vecchione have vehemently denied the accusations, Judge Frederic Block hammered them at a hearing.
“I’m disturbed that Hynes praises Vecchione after what happened,” Block said. “Hynes hasn’t treated this seriously, has he?” the judge asked. “Name one thing that he has done in light of Mr. Vecchione’s aberration.”
Any credible indication that a prosecutor perverted justice in pursuit of a conviction, let alone one carrying a life sentence, must be grounds for investigation by a disciplinary system.
In this matter, that responsibility falls to the Grievance Committee of the Brooklyn Appellate Division. Its counsel must delve into whether Vecchione played fast and loose with both the evidentiary rules and the truth in nailing Collins, as well as in a separate matter during which a third judge raised similar questions about Vecchione.
The committee’s staff must pay attention to testimony in Collins’ suit, presuming that Hynes and Vecchione go through with testifying rather than settle the case.
Three self-described witnesses were key to Collins’ conviction in the 1994 slaying of Abraham Pollack . Angel Santos testified that he had seen Collins run from the area of the shooting. Years later, he testified that Vecchione had threatened to hit him with a coffee table and keep him in jail until he agreed to take the stand.
Edwin Oliva, testified that he was present when Collins planned the crime. A retired detective came forward to say Oliva had recanted that story under questioning — a recantation that Vecchione never gave to Collins’ lawyer.
Vecchione had also gotten Oliva’s work release from prison revoked and allegedly told him he would stay locked up until he testified, none of which was reported to Collins’ attorney.
Outside court, the third witness, Edwin Diaz, said he had testified in exchange for help with a probation violation, yet another fact kept from the defense.
Instead, Vecchione swore under oath, “No deals were made with witnesses that were not disclosed by me to the court and the defense. No witness ever recanted a prior statement or grand jury testimony. No witness had to be threatened or forced to testify.”
Hynes is at Vecchione’s side in asserting that all was on the up and up. If true, the grievance committee will issue clean bills of health. What’s important is that, based on the suspicions of two federal judges, the panel must find out whether the two prosecutors violated their oaths of office.