Man who served 7 years for Brooklyn robbery found not guilty at retrial

BROOKLYN, New York City (WABC) -- A man who served seven years in prison for a robbery in Brooklyn and was granted a second trial has been found not guilty.

Otis Boone was 19 when he was convicted in 2011 of robbing two people, and he remained behind bars until the New York State Court of Appeals reversed his conviction and granted him a new trial in 2017.

"It's exciting, scary, kind of like being born again," Boone said. "I was scared, because I was looking at it like, this could happen all over again. I could be going right back to prison for something I did not do."

Boone's attorneys with the Legal Aid Society argued that the victims in the case were attacked from behind, had only seconds to view the suspect's face and gave bare bones descriptions of a young black man. They also presented evidence they say showed that Boone used an EBT card minutes before the alleged incident approximately a mile away.

The Legal Aid Society alleged police negligence during the investigation, claiming the NYPD had access to evidence that would have exonerated Boone that they did not investigate.

"While nothing will ever fully right the years that our client spent wrongfully incarceration, we are pleased to have secured some justice with this acquittal so that he can finally move on with his life," Legal Aid Society attorney Bess Stiffelman said. "Unfortunately, this kind of negligence in eyewitness identification is not unique and demonstrates the profound recklessness of the NYPD to investigate arrests made solely on identification testimony, which we now know is the greatest source of wrongful convictions."

The case also set a precedent for cross-race identifications, where jurors must be instructed about the unreliability of identification when the observer or witness is a different race than the suspect.

"People used to think, someone said, 'Oh I'm sure it's that person,' that that was trustworthy," Stiffelman said. "We now know that there are lots of reasons that can be untrustworthy."

Boone's attorneys argued that the arresting detective failed to review prior interviews and information that cast doubt on the reliability of the identification procedure, and that the detective ignored requests to interview witnesses who could have provided information on Boone's whereabouts at the time of the robberies.

"This case had reasonable doubt written all over it," Stiffelman said.

The NYPD disputed that claim.

"Nothing about the investigation and prosecution of Otis Boone supports the conclusion that he was falsely arrested or maliciously prosecuted," an NYPD spokesperson said.

The Brooklyn District Attorney's Office agrees with giving the jury cross-race instructions, but spokesperson said in a statement that they stuck by the original prosecution.

"We are very much aware of the potential problems with eyewitness identifications; we train our prosecutors on this issue and we agree with the Court of Appeals rule requiring jury instructions on cross-racial identification upon request," the statement read. "In the case of Mr. Boone, however, we believe the evidence supported his guilt and that the jury in the second trial should have been allowed to hear evidence regarding the high degree of confidence the witnesses expressed in their identifications within days of the incidents."

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