tv Conviction MSNBC October 11, 2015 3:00pm-4:01pm PDT
>> that's all for now. i'm lester holt. thanks for joining us. a jury found these two men guilty of murder. a judge sent them away for life. but we proved they were innocent. >> your motion to vacate your convictions is granted. >> this prisoner heard about that case and asked us to investigate his case. >> i needed somebody to prove i didn't do this.
>> it was a murder in harlem. he had an alibi. >> my son was not where they say he was. >> police had witnesses. what they told detectives changed his life. >> they said show us the murderer? and they pointed their fingers at you. what those witnesses told us could change it again. >> i don't know if i really picked out the right person. >> one man's story. >> he is living everyone's worst nightmare. >> of conviction. thanks for joining us. i'm lester holt. it was one of the first murders of the year at a time when new york's homicide rate was plunging, but that wasn't why police were all over this case. this one was personal, the victim was a retired cop, and it didn't take long for an arrest. the young man who was convicted of that murder has now spent almost half his life behind bars, yet many say he shouldn't have spent a single day.
here's luke russert with a hidden camera investigation. do you know what i am? i'm buried alive. i'm dead to society. i don't exist in society. >> if you walk through any maximum security prison, you're likely to hear the same thing over and over again. i'm innocent. but every once in a while you hear an inmate's story that makes you wonder, maybe this time it's true. >> i should not be here because i didn't commit this crime. i wasn't at the scene of the crime or anything. >> meet new york state inmate number aa-2303, john adrian velasquez, also known as j.j.,
convicted of killing a retired new york city police officer during a botched robbery in harlem, a conviction he's always claimed is unjust. >> an innocent man has done over 14 years incarcerated while another man, who is a killer, may be on the train with you when you go to work. >> "dateline" first heard from velasquez when he began writing us letters telling us, i don't belong here. >> and my children should not be denied the presence of a loving and capable father. seeing my son struggling for attention is killing me softly. >> his letters made us curious to know more. and what began as a one-day prison visit by a "dateline" producer in 1992 has turned into a ten-year odyssey in a search for the truth. his story begins in january 1998. that's j.j. velasquez at 22
years old. when he was living with his longtime girlfriend, vanessa sapiro and their young son. what kind of guy is j.j.? >> lovable, friend ly, family oriented. >> vanessa says velasquez was studying to be a computer programmer and was taking a short break from school to help with their newborn. that's when the call came that changed everything. >> it was a saturday morning, and i received a phone call that the police were looking for me. and that came to me as a shock. but what came to me as even more of a shock was the fact they said that i was a suspect for shooting a police officer. >> and why was that so shocking to you? >> because i've never shot anybody in my life. i mean, shooting a police officer? my father was a cop. >> his father, john adrian sr., was a police officer for amtrak and had recently passed away. the death offer your father had a tremendous affect on you. >> absolutely.
he was more than my father. he was my best friend. >> he went to catholic school. he was very sociable. >> velasquez's mother, maria, a union labor organizer, says her son was a typical all-american boy. >> he had a lot of friends. i used to feel like a taxi driver driving them to the movies, taking them bowling, doing all kinds of things. >> only child? >> my only child, yes. >> maria says she was stunned when she heard her son was wanted for killing a retired cop. >> i called my son and i said, what's going on? he didn't know what was going on. >> velasquez said he had nothing to fear so he turned himself in and agreed to appear in a lineup. it was at that lineup witnesses identified him as the shooter and he was charged with first-degree murder. you say you had nothing to do with the crime. you were nowhere close to the scene. why is it you were picked out?
>> luke, that's probably the best question in the world, because i don't know the answer. >> regardless, in october 1999, develop velasquez was convicted murder and sent to prison. he says his situation has left him angry, bitter, and determined to prove his innocence. >> actions speak louder than words. and what i would say to anybody who doesn't believe me right now is go out there and prove that i did it. >> so with no idea what we'd find, we agreed to take him up on this challenge. and for years we've been gathering the long forgotten files. thousands of pages that make up his case. from the beginning, velasquez knew we weren't making any promises. you're not lying to us in any way, right? >> not at all. >> we're going to go back through this, pore over this stuff. there's no lies in there, there's nothing that will blow up on us? >> a waste of my time and your time. >> in our search we had to go back to the beginning. we relived the crime.
we examined the trial. we tracked down long gone eyewitnesses. all to find out if john adrian velasquez is really an innocent man, locked up for a crime he did not commit. when we come back, what really happened the day of the crime? >> all hell breaks loose. he takes out the gun -- >> i heard all these shots, boom, boom, boom. >> when "conviction" continues. awe believe active management
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don't let your neighbor enjoy all the savings. take the free home energy checkup. honey, we need a new refrigerator. visit pge.com/checkup and get started today. jon-adrian velazquez is doing hard time at sing sing. he's convicted of killing a retired new york city police officer. >> to this day, it's still a mystery why, out of millions of people, i was the one chosen. if i knew the answer, i'd be a step closer to society right now. >> to find out, we went back to
the day of the crime. >> it was a tuesday, january 27th, in 1998. >> attorneys bob gotlieb and celia gordon represent velazquez. >> there was a numbers spot, an illegal gambling joint in harlem owned by a retired police officer by the name of albert ward. >> and there were plenty of people inside. >> the people we're talking about were all drug dealers, drug users. >> people like lorenzo woodford. >> i started using drugs when i was about 10. >> woodford said he came to the numbers spot that day about noon to buy heroin. a few minutes later, two men barged in. it was a robbery. >> i heard someone say, "give it up [ bleep ], give it up." this guy stuck a gun in my face. oh, man. >> one man had a gun and the other duct tape and began tying people up. >> all hell breaks loose. al ward, who is a retired police officer, has a gun. he takes out the gun. >> there was a struggle and then gunfire. >> i heard all these shots,
boom, boom, boom. >> 59-year-old albert ward was killed, shot once in the head. >> immediately upon albert ward dropping to the floor, the two individuals take off. >> the robbers weren't the only ones who fled. >> before i got a chance to even think anything, i jumped up and ran. >> lorenzo woodford and another eyewitness, woodford's heroin dealer, took off. that drug dealer, a man named augustus brown, would turn out to be critical to the case. in the meantime, a retired cop was down. the nypd responded swiftly and with force. >> there's captains, there's lieutenant, there's an enormous police presence. >> the eyewitnesses, the ones who didn't run, gave detectives varied descriptions of the shooter and his accomplice. >> the gunman was a light-skinned black male with braids and the other was a dark-skinned male black. >> at the precinct, eyewitnesses were shown books with hundreds
of mug shots. none recognized the shooter, but one eyewitness did pick out a photo of the dark-skinned male, the killer's accomplice. >> the dark-skinned black male was identified as darry daniels, who had a long criminal history. >> he was picked up, placed in a lineup and, after being identified by three eyewitnesses, he was charged with murder. next, police focused on finding his accomplice. >> the police artist sketches a drawing of what the gunman purportedly looked like. >> this sketch was plastered all over harlem, a place where the streets talk and the cops were listening. tips came in from all directions, but one name kept coming up over and over again, mustafa. >> they find out from three separate sources that a guy by the name of mustafa may have been the gunman. >> and those tipsters said mustafa fit the exact description of that sketch. >> he's a light-skinned male
black, he's got braids. there's a police memo that is written where it specifically states, "primary target mustafa." >> while detectives search for mustafa, they were also looking for the two eyewitnesses who fled from the club, heroin addict, lorenzo woodford, and drug dealer, augustus brown. they found woodford first. he told detectives the shooter was a black male with cornrows. and then woodford led detectives to augustus brown. >> augustus brown is selling heroin on the street, and they bring him to the police precinct. they then take him to where they have photographs on a computer. he looked at hundreds of photographs. >> after more than eight hours, brown picked out a photo, but it wasn't a man who fit the description given by eyewitnesses. >> he picks out the photograph of jon-adrian velazquez and said, that's the man or that's your guy. >> and that's when the search for mustafa ended, but for
jon-adrian velazquez, it was only the beginning. >> once augustus brown picks out jon-adrian velazquez, there is no need to look for mustafa. >> why were you in the photo that augustus brown selected? >> i've done some things i regret, not proud of no more. i realized they were wrong. >> months earlier, velazquez had been arrested for drug possession. while he was never convicted of that or any other crime, police still had his mugshot in their files. remember, when velazquez heard he was wanted he turned himself in and volunteered to appear in a lineup even though he said his attorney was against it. >> i said, well, whose choice is it? i have nothing to do with this, i have nothing to hide. >> you're pretty confident. >> i had every right to be confident. >> he didn't run, he didn't flee, he didn't go and try to hop a plane. >> it was velazquez's mother, maria, who dropped her son off at the precinct, the last time she saw him as a free man.
>> i drove to the corner and i can't forget how i felt. i let out this scream. it was such a loud scream. >> inside the precinct, three eyewitnesses from the numbers spot identified velazquez as the gunman and he was charged with first-degree murder. what's going through your mind? >> i wouldn't be able to tell you what's going through my mind. all i know is i'm stuck in a cage, you know, laying on a cold slab. >> soon darry daniels would plead guilty to robbery in return for a ten-year sentence. velazquez claims he didn't know daniels and he was innocent and told his lawyers no deal. >> i don't want to hear about a plea bargain. i'm going all the way. no way i would concede to this.
>> develops a ked. >> velazquez would be held at rikers island before a jury would hear his story. >> i was feeling confident. i was feeling confident that, you know, the truth will set me free. >> coming up -- a showdown in court. a prosecutor versus a mom. >> when the d.a. said that i'm just a mother who would do anything to save my son, that felt like a rock had hit my chest and blew the wind out of me, because i told the truth. >> when "conviction" continues. when you're not confident your company's data is secure, the possibility of a breach can quickly become the only thing you think about. that's where at&t can help. at at&t we monitor our network traffic so we can see things others can't.
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based solely on eyewitness testimony. who is the first main eyewitness that they called to implicate you? >> i believe it was augustus brown. >> augustus brown, that drug dealer who first linked velazquez to the crime, picking him out from hundreds of mug shots. >> he's the reason why we're here right now. he's the reason why i'm in jail. >> brown testified there is no doubt velazquez was the shooter, that he'd seen him on the streets some time before the crime. after brown, three more witnesses testified that velazquez was the killer, heroin addict, lorenzo woodford, and two other men who were there that day, brothers robert and philip jones. people walked into that courtroom and they said, show us the murderer. and they pointed their fingers at you. >> it felt like a slap in the face, a stab in the gut. >> but when one of the prosecution witnesses testified, an 88-year-old woman named dorothy kennedy, something very unusual happened.
>> dorothy kennedy testified before the jury that she looked directly into the eyes of the gunman and that she would never forget his face. and she's asked while she's on the stand, do you see the person who shot and killed albert ward in the courtroom and she says yes. >> you know what happens? you know who she points out? juror number six. the jury's there laughing. but this ain't a joke. this is my life on the line. >> it was funny, in a sense. >> 14 years later, we found juror number six. his name is ramon. >> i saw the other jurors looking at me. i realized, whoa, did she just pick me out? >> the defense then presented its case, beginning by pointing out that velazquez did not match the original description of the shooter. >> we have every eyewitness say the persons involved were male blacks. lo and behold, when they have the lineup, you have jon-adrian velazquez, who is hispanic.
did you ever have dreadlocks? >> absolutely not. >> how long was your hair back then? >> shorter than yours. >> the defense introduced this photo showing velazquez with short hair just one month before the crime. and the defense made another argument, velazquez had an alibi. >> the minute that they spoke about that day, january 27th, it stuck out like a sore thumb. that was the day before my father's birthday. >> his father had passed away six months earlier. >> if you can see on the tombstone, january 28th is his birthday. >> so this would be the first time that my father's birthday would come around, and we wouldn't spend it with him. >> and that's why velazquez, who testified in his own defense, says he remembers being on the phone with his mother that day. >> that was the day when i spoke about going to the cemetery to see my father's grave. >> this phone bill shows a 74-minute phone call from maria's home to her son's apartment in the bronx exactly when the crime was unfolding in
harlem. >> if jon-adrian is on the phone with his mother, there's no way that jon-adrian could have been at the numbers spot in harlem, shooting and killing albert ward. >> velazquez's mother, maria, took the stand, testifying she remembered that phone call. >> my son was not where they say he was. he was on the phone with me. >> next to testify was velazquez's girlfriend, vanessa. >> i know where he was at. he was on the phone. >> vanessa says she remembers going out to buy milk for their newborn that morning. >> i came back from the store and he walked in and he was on the phone. >> you physically saw him holding the phone? >> yes. >> but in his closing statement, the prosecutor argued they were all lying and that it was actually vanessa who was on the phone with maria. >> did you ever get on the phone with his mom that day? >> no. >> when the d.a. said i'm just a mother who would do anything to save my son, that felt like a
rock had hit my chest and blew the wind out of me because i told the truth. i told the truth. >> the jury was sequestered for three days. >> they're supposed to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. three days? three days and only three days of reasonable doubt? couldn't there have been some doubt in three days? obviously, they were doubting something. what takes so long? >> all the time, we were frustrated. we were all so -- i mean, it was heated. >> juror number six, ramon aviles, remembered most of the discussion centered on the girlfriend's testimony. >> it seemed planned, scripted, actually. that's the perfect word. >> he said the jury wrote her off as a girlfriend just trying to cover for her boyfriend. >> every time she said something, it started to feel like it was further from the truth and she was covering a lie with another lie.
>> with each passing day, he says, the deliberations grew more intense and stressful. >> i mean, nobody got physical, but it was just -- you can see the toll it was taking, especially on some of the older jurors. people talking about they need to get back into their life. you can see that it was getting to them. they were saying, wow, we're going to get sequestered one more night? >> the verdict comes back. what are you feeling right then? >> the first verdict was not guilty. >> of first degree? >> and i felt great. and i knew i was walking out. >> but in the end, the jury believed the eyewitness at the numbers parlor. velazquez was found guilty of second-degree murder. >> then i remember a sharp pain, a real sharp pain in my heart, because i found out that i may never see the streets again. >> this whole thing has been a very painful experience for me, very painful.
>> i heard my mother, i heard her scream. i heard vanessa scream. she cursed. she said something. they were telling her to make jacob be quiet, 'cause jacob was crying. i don't think i looked back. i don't think i had the heart to look back at my family's eyes. >> my son is not a murderer. he is not. >> velazquez's sentence? 25 years to life. and soon, the life he knew on the outside, the things that made up his world, faded away. >> hi, christmas tree. i love you! >> vanessa, the mother of his two sons, moved on to a new relationship a few years after velazquez went to prison. so you separated yourself? >> separated myself, completely. i had to let him know it was just too much as a single mother with two young kids to do this.
>> i understood where she was coming from. when i got arrested, i was 22 years old. how can i expect a woman that wasn't even 25 years old to wait for me to come home 25 years? was that realistic? >> years passed. two appeals were filed. both were denied. he was now on his own. >> for a long time, i was private about my matters. when individuals started to find out that i was innocent, they said, yo, what are you doing in the yard playing handball? sure, you can play. what are you doing playing basketball or softball? you need to be in the law library. i had to create my own future. i needed to learn the language that they used to destroy my life. >> so you go and study the law? >> so i go and i study the law. >> from behind bars, velazquez went to work trying to prove his innocence.
and that's when he started writing us those emotional letters. >> that is all that i want, the truth. >> when we come back, a witness recants. >> so that's all true? >> that's all true. >> and new questions about the real identity of the shooter. >> was there any evidence that they knew each other, that they ever hung out on the corner together? there's nothing. >> zero. >> when "conviction" continues. . ♪ or, as we say at unitedhealthcare insurance company, go long. of course, how you plan is up to you. take healthcare. make sure you're covered for more than what just medicare pays... consider an aarp medicare supplement insurance plan insured by unitedhealthcare insurance company... you might give this a try... the only medicare supplement plans that carry the aarp name, and the ones that millions of people trust year after year. plan well. enjoy life. go long.
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i'm richard lui with the hour's top stories. a memphis police officer is found dead this afternoon. 31-year-old terence allred joined the force a year ago, the third memphis police officer killed in 2015. up to 450 southwest flights have been delayed today due to problems with the air loin's check-in system. passengers were left in las vegas, phoenix and l.a. southwest says it's still experiencing technical issues. now back to our msnbc special.
his trial was over. >> justice is hard to earn once you have been convicted in this country. >> time was passing, and j.j. velazquez's chances of getting a second look were dimming. >> i needed to be heard. i needed somebody to look into this. i needed somebody to prove what i've been trying to prove all along. i didn't do this. >> from inside prison walls, he had heard about another "dateline" investigation involving two other lifers who were later vindicated after our broadcast. >> mr. lemus, your motion to vacate your convictions is granted. >> and that's when he began sending us those letters. since then, we've gathered all we could on his case, thousands
of documents, police reports, trial transcripts, court filings, piecing the story together for ourselves. it all comes down to those four eyewitnesses who identified velazquez at trial, drug dealer, augustus brown, brothers philip and robert jones and heroin addict, lorenzo wood ford. with hidden cameras rolling, we found woodford in hartford, connecticut. he's one of those witnesses that fled right after the shooting. >> i went to another friend of mine's house. i stayed there, i was just so scared. >> police did not locate woodford until five days later when he was brought in to view a lineup. at that lineup, he did not identify velazquez. in fact, police reports quote him as not positive about anyone. there is more. woodford admitted he was high on heroin during the crime. >> i've been going to jail all my life. >> but then it all changed. at trial, woodford testified he was sure velazquez was the gunman.
today, woodford says he sticks to what he said in court. >> with the kid that i said did it, that's who did it. >> but he was surprised his testimony was all that important. >> i didn't turn him in. somebody else turned him in. all right? they had to have some kind of evidence. they didn't just take my word for it. >> detectives didn't take his word for it. they had several other witnesses. velazquez's new lawyers, celia gordon and bob gottlieb, have been conducting their own investigation into the case. >> our investigaor located philip jones and spoke with philip jones. >> he gave the lawyers a sworn affidavit where he recanted all of his testimony, raising serious doubt about who actually committed the murder. >> you know philip jones? we wanted to confirm his story, so we went looking for him. i'm looking for philip jones? >> no. >> philip jones? >> no. >> eventually, we found him outside his homes in queen, new york, he asked us to come inside
where we read his affidavit back to him. "on 2-2-98, i did a lineup where i picked out an individual as being the shooter." in the affidavit jones said that police pressured him to make an identification. >> i told the police this was the guy and i felt sure this was not the truth. i thought they were going to arrest me and my brother robert. >> by the time the trial started, jones was in jail, convicted on drug charges. but the d.a.'s office promised it would send a letter to the parole board saying he cooperated as a witness. today, philip jones said he always knew that velazquez was the wrong man. >> when i saw the defendant in court and i look in his eyes, i knew i had picked out the wrong guy. and the guy on trial i had never seen before. >> there you go. there you go. >> so that's all true? >> that's all true. >> and according to velazquez's lawyers, philip's brother, robert, another eyewitness tells us he also has doubts velazquez was the shooter. >> he's a witness to a crime. >> now the lawyers say there's
even more reason to doubt their client's guilt because they say there's no proof velazquez even knew the man he's accused of committing the crime with, darry daniels. was there any evidence before that day -- >> no. >> -- that they ever knew each other? ever hung out on the corner together? there's nothing? >> zero. >> but in his plea, he said that velazquez was his accomplish, but velazquez says daniels way lying. did you know darry daniels? >> no. >> he served his ten years and today, he's a free man. a "dateline" producer caught up caught up with him in newark, new jersey. we tried to show him a photo of velazquez. he would not look at it and said he didn't want to talk about the case. that left one witness, the first person to bring velazquez into the case, drug dealer, augustus brown.
>> everything changes with augustus brown. >> coming up -- 14 years ago, what this man told police changed his life. what he told us could change it again. >> somebody doing life because i said it was them and it possibly not have had been them. >> when "conviction" continues. ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ geico motorcycle, great rates for great rides. rheumatoid arthritis like me... and you're talking to a rheumatologist about a biologic, this is humira.
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jon-adrian velazquez has lived in a cramped 6x9 prison cell for more than a third of his life. >> you can touch both sides of the wall. >> over the years, he's learned how to survive in prison. >> most people sleep with their head to the back because it's dangerous to keep your head there, not knowing who can come
by and do something to you. my kids. my kids, the main question they ask, when you coming home, dad? and daddy tells them, i don't know. >> he's only gotten to know his sons from their short time together in the prison's visiting room. >> my sons know that i love them. my sons know that i'm innocent. >> for years, the weekend ritual for j.j., jr., and jacob has been the same, going to the prison with grandma. >> this is the jail that my dad is in. >> jacob only knows his dad because i've taken him to visit his dad. he was a baby. i put him in his arms so he would know his father and his father would know him. >> but as his older son became a teenager, he'd sometimes go months without visiting his father. >> i love my father, i do want to see my father. i have nothing against him, not at all. it's just jail and stuff like that. [ sirens ]
>> how does it make you feel, not being able to be there for him? >> i've been dehumanized. i never took my children to a ballgame. i wasn't there at my children's graduation. when my children needed to ask a question that they felt a woman couldn't answer, i wasn't there to answer it. how do i feel? i feel like less of a man. >> velazquez and his lawyers know the only chance they have to free him is to successfully challenge the credibility of the only evidence that exists, the eyewitnesses. so far, one is sticking to his story. this eyewitness has recanted. and a third eyewitness told the lawyers he was never certain that velazquez was the shooter, but there's still that key eyewitness, the one who first linked velazquez to the crime,
drug dealer, augustus brown. >> did you ever know augustus brown? >> no, i didn't. >> you had no relationship with him prior? >> absolutely not. >> velazquez's lawyers say finding out why brown picked him out in the first place may be the only way to know if velazquez got justice. >> augustus brown, the 20-year-old heroin dealer, is this case. >> we found augustus brown in state prison where he is serving time for forgery. we were led into a conference room and turned on our hidden camera. >> thanks for meeting with us. we appreciate it. >> he told us about the day of the crime, how he met lorenzo woodford at the club. >> he was a heroin addict. >> brown said he fled right after the shooting, but two mornings later detectives tracked him down. >> they snatched me up off the street early. >> he says he was in the precinct all day, that police
sat him in front of a computer screen and asked him to look at pages of mug shots. a police report backs that up. he was shown 230 pages, eight photos per page. that's more than 1800 photographs. finally, he says he spotted someone. you just picked out the one that you recognized? >> i thought it might be him. >> but there's more to what happened in the precinct that day. he told us detectives were pointing the finger at him as a suspect. >> they threatened to charge me with conspiracy to this, saying that -- >> so the police were going to say you were a part of this robbery? >> yes, saying that i set this up for them to come in and rob him. >> right. but you didn't do it? >> no. me having that on my record, a young black man, i ain't got no job. i'm not in school or nothing. >> right. >> so that's what came about me pointing the finger at someone else. >> if that's true, velazquez's lawyers say his testimony cannot be believed. >> i don't care who is watching tonight. put yourself in that position, the police start pointing a
threatening, accusing finger at you, where suddenly you're worried you will be thrown in jail. >> so this 20-year-old is sitting by himself for hours in a police precinct thinking i better name someone or i am not going home tonight. >> he had reason to sweat. when police pulled brown in for questioning, they found ten bags of heroin hidden in his underwear. after he picked velazquez, brown says he was allowed to leave with the drugs. why didn't they charge you with that? >> i don't know why they didn't charge me. you know what i mean? they had the dope and everything. >> we asked the new york city police department to speak with us about brown's story and the velazquez's case. they declined to comment. bottom line, augustus brown says he was never certain that jon-adrian velazquez was the shooter. you think the guy who's behind bars is the guy who did it? >> that's something that i've been struggling with. i don't know if i picked out the right person. i don't know if it was him or not.
somebody doing life because i said it was him and it possibly could not have been him. >> there it is. the most important eyewitness telling us it was possible he picked the wrong man. you think about this when you go to bed at night? >> it always crosses my mind. >> after an admission like brown's, not to mention the statements of those other recanting witnesses, lawyers gottlieb and gordon say you can only come to one conclusion. >> he is as innocent of albert ward's murder as i am. >> he's innocent. >> i'm certain. >> they're about to take this investigation to the manhattan district attorney, but some legal heavyweights in new york say this case is no slam dunk. >> once the defendant is convicted, it is an uphill battle and the odds are against you. >> coming up -- j.j. doesn't just want the d.a. to believe him. there's someone else who may matter even more. >> i'm almost there, jay.
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he's living everyone's worst nightmare. >> lawyers celia gordon and gottlieb say the eyewitnesses who have now changed their stories are proof that jon-adrian velazquez is an innocent man. >> everything about this case screams innocence. everything. >> and they say it underscores an even larger point. the proven unreliability of eyewitness testimony in general. >> since 1998 when this happened, there have been a legion of scientific studies that say that eyewitness identification is the major
cause of wrongful convictions. >> but it may be too little, too late. >> this is an extremely difficult fight for any convicted defendant to undertake. >> steve cohen is a former federal prosecutor. >> once somebody goes to trial, 12 jurors say guilty, once you're in that place, it is extremely difficult to overturn a conviction. >> years ago cohen was also a defense attorney and helped in the exoneration of those two other men "dateline" profiled years back. >> when you look at the totality there's no question this is a thin case. that doesn't make it easier. in an odd way, that makes it harder. and it makes it harder because without something very new, what you're really doing is attacking the same evidence that the jury based its conviction on.
>> and cohen says anything new velazquez's lawyers have might not be enough. >> i don't want to suggest that recantations are nothing, but they are not dna. they are not somebody who you now believe was the actual shooter. you don't have that here. >> for four years, jj has lived in sing sing's honor block. and he's been going to school at the prison. >> see what the teacher graded me on? see what the topic was? >> my incarceration's impact on my family. >> right. >> his younger son, jacob, has never known his father as a free man. his oldest, jj, jr., 3 when his dad was sent away. because of his age, prison rules prohibited him from visiting his father by himself. >> he's never had an individual time where we're just father and son.
he doesn't know what that is. i don't know what that is. >> now he is older, father and son will finally have a visit alone for the first time. >> i really want to know how my incarceration has affected him. what effect has that had to grow up without a father? >> what's up, kid? >> i love you. >> i love you, too. >> growing, man. glad to see you. my life has affected you, 'cause i know that what's happened to you is a product of what happened to me. and you have a right to be angry about that. >> i didn't always get what i was supposed to have when i was a child. >> you had a rough upbringing, man. you spent five days a week during your childhood going to
school and on the sixth day, you spent in the penitentiary with your father. >> i never hated you. i just hated coming to see you. >> i'm proud of who you are and i love who you are. there's nothing that you can do to change that. >> their visit lasted more than four hours. >> i'm almost there, jay. i'm almost there. people believe in me. you need to believe in me, too. >> if they are ever to meet outside prison walls, it may be up to his next visitors. lawyers have come to sing sing with the 80-page brief they will be presenting to the d.a. >> what we are asking the district attorney do at this point is investigate all of these, all of these leads, here it is on the silver platter. >> the witnesses have recanted their identifications and changed their trial testimony. so that's the hook. that's the new information. we will see. >> all right. >> it's gonna take time.
>> all i know is time. that's all i know. i appreciate everything you're doing. and i know that there's a possibility i might spend the rest of my life in prison. this is the best i've ever had. i've never had a second chance, you know? this is it. i'm ready. thank you. >> in october 2011, vazquez's lawyers delivered their brief to manhattan district attorney's office, asking him to reinvestigate the case. >> we have no reason to believe that the d.a.'s going to do anything else, other than conduct an objective, thorough, independent investigation. >> we continue, as an office -- >> in 2010, cyrus vance, jr., the newly elected manhattan d.a. formed a team called "the conviction integrity unit." its mission is to investigate claims of wrongful conviction. and while the manhattan d.a.'s office declined to discuss details of the case, it was reviewed.
a 2013 response to velazquez's motion concludes "defendant's motion to vacate his conviction should be denied." velazquez's story also attracted attention from hollywood actor and activist martin sheen. >> good to meet you. >> in december 2011, the actor went to the prison to meet velazquez. >> your statement at your sentencing, that there was a miscarriage of justice and you trusted the system and you trusted your own innocence, you trusted god, that you would be exonerated. >> i still do. >> yes. of course. that's why we're here. >> and then there's juror ramon aviles. he says he's always had his doubts about the verdict. >> what did i do? did i do something wrong here? i think i did something wrong. >> he told us he began to question his decision the moment the verdict was announced. >> once it was announced, i looked at the mother. and i looked away. in other words, i didn't know
where to put my face. i guess that's what i have to live with from that time on. >> steve cohen says that admission by a juror will not necessarily help velazquez. >> he's always been convicted, 12 people said guilty. and now to come in and say i want you to look at it again, i want all of that work to be washed away because there's a grave injustice here. the system doesn't really work that way. >> in the meantime, one of the original defense lawyers on the case, norman reamer, has written the manhattan district attorney. reimer says there was a substantial possible that velazquez was unfairly convicted. but for now, all jon-adrian velazquez and his family can do is wait. >> in god we trust, because men make mistakes. all i can do is trust in god. >> do you have hope?
>> i have too much hope. i know he's coming home. >> when you walk out in the prison yard, you have one of the most beautiful views in the hudson river that anyone could ever see. what's that like? >> sweet torture. i see freedom before my eyes. it seems tangible, but it's not. i watch it at night with the bright lights. i watch it in the day. i see the ferry riding by. i see the sailboats sailing by. that's freedom. it's right there. it's sweet torture. that's what it is.
you'll find more information about this story at msnbc.com. that's all for now. i'm lester holt. thanks for joining us. 911? >> is this a hoax or is it real? >> no, it's true. and if you see anything, stay indoors. >> remain indoors. don't try to approach him or detain him. >> on the 18th of october, 2011, one american town became engulfed in a bizarre and tragic event. >> i'm in desperate need here of some help. these things are completely crazy, half domesticated, half wild. >> stay inside. >> this is the story of what happened that night in zanesville, ohio, when one man's obsession with exotic and dangerous animals left his
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