Three men were exonerated Wednesday when their murder and arson convictions were vacated by a New York State Supreme Court judge.
William Vasquez, Amaury Villalobos and Raymond Mora were convicted in 1981 of setting a fire in a Park Slope townhouse that killed a woman and her five young children.
The only eyewitness in the trial was the building’s owner, Hannah Quick, who accused the three men of setting the fire. On her deathbed last year, Quick confessed to family members that she lied to investigators. During a review of the case by the Brooklyn district attorney’s Conviction Review Unit, prosecutors discovered that Quick made many contradicting statements to police.
The only other evidence against the three defendants was the testimony of a fire marshal who said he found evidence of arson at the scene. In partnership with Adele Bernhardt of the
New York Law School Post-Conviction Innocence Clinic
, the Conviction Review Unit commissioned experts to reexamine the crime scene evidence. The experts found no evidence that the fire was set intentionally. In light of these developments, Assistant District Attorney Mark J. Hale recommended that Justice Matthew J. D’Emic throw out the three men’s convictions.
“The record does not show that the defendants did anything to start a fire or acted together to start a fire—no evidence to show they were even present to start a fire,” Hale said in court on Wednesday. “The district attorney has no confidence in this case, no evidence of a crime. The people move to vacate the convictions of all three, and we lack evidence to retry any of these defendants.”
Justice D’Emic dismissed the indictment and sealed the case. Vasquez and Villalobos were released on parole in 2012 after serving 33 years in prison, while Mora died in prison in 1989. Vasquez has since gone blind from glaucoma which he says went untreated in prison.
“I don’t have bitterness,” he told the
on Wednesday. “We all make mistakes; we all make mistakes. [Quick] made a mistake. Too bad what I had to pay with it. I lost my sight, but I still came out with a victory and go on with my life.”