Wrongfully accused man's conviction overturned

November 12, 2009 3:44:38 PM PST
A judge Thursday threw out a murder case against a man imprisoned for nearly two decades and declared he was innocent, saying a key witness lied and others influenced one other into identifying him as the shooter. Fernando Bermudez cried and hugged one of his lawyers as the judge took the unusual step of not only overturning his 1992 conviction but dismissing the charges, rather than calling for a retrial.

"Oh my God, the torture is over," wife Crystal Bermudez said. "We don't have to be tortured anymore."

Crystal says she never lost faith. Her husband was in prison for 18 years, and on Thursday, Supreme Court Justice John Cataldo threw out his conviction, blaming NYPD detectives and Manhattan prosecutors for mishandling the case.

Bermudez "has demonstrated his actual innocence," Cataldo said. "This court wishes to express its profound regret over the past 18 years. I hope for you a better future."

It all began in 1991, when 16-year-old Raymond Blount was murdered outside a Greenwich Village nightclub.

Witnesses identified Bermudez as the gunman, and he was later convicted without any forensic evidence or a motive.

But the district attorney's star witness, Efraim Lopez, later admitted he lied to investigators. The judge also ruled that the eyewitnesses were allowed to confer with one another.

"All of the people's trial evidence has been discredited," Cataldo said.

He added the testimony was "a total fabrication," and that "the people knew, or should have known, that Mr. Lopez' testimony was false."

The 40-year-old Bermudez remains behind bars for now because of an unrelated federal drug-sale conviction that carried a 27-month sentence. His lawyers plan to ask federal authorities to credit him for the time he has served and release him.

Prosecutors said they still believe Bermudez is guilty and were examining their options, including a potential appeal.

"We strongly disagree with the judge's decision," Chief Assistant District Attorney Mark Dwyer said. "We don't think the defense has shown that there was anything wrong with the verdict."