A man convicted of participating in a 1990 New York City subway killing will receive a new trial after spending 25 years in prison because a new witness has sworn to his innocence.
Despite confessing to the crime before the trial, one young man convicted of helping with a mugging-turned-murder has maintained his innocence from the beginning. The murder of a 22-year-old tourist, Brian Watkins of Utah, in a subway was the catalyst that led New York to make dramatic changes to slow rising crime rates.
Throughout his 25 years in prison, Johnny Hincapie has said he was in a different part of the subway entirely when the crime was committed. He was charged with being an accomplice in the mugging, not committing murder, but says he was beaten and threatened by detectives until he confessed. Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Eduardo Padro has overturned his 1990 conviction.
The judge initially ordered that jailers free Mr. Hincapie pending the new trial, but reconsidered after learning that the Columbia native had a deportation order pending against him, according to The New York Times. He will instead be held at Riker's Island on $1 bail while his family challenges that order.
"I had nothing to do with this," he wrote to his lawyer of the crime in 1990, according to the Associated Press. "I am innocent."
Mr. Hincapie's father, Carlos, expressed great relief about the judge's decision.
"This is the greatest day in our lives," the elder Mr. Hincapie told the AP. "After 25 years of suffering, after 25 years of injustice, after 25 years of sleepless nights, God just revealed his justice through a great judge."
Justice Padro was likely swayed by testimony of a new witness who came out just two years ago saying that Hincapie was not involved. Hincapie's lawyer had insisted throughout the original trial that he was innocent, and his confession came only through coercion, the Times reported in 1991.
Hincapie's lawyer, Ron Kuby, pointed to his client's optimism throughout 25 years in prison as evidence of his innocence. He said Hincapie had worked toward self-improvement in prison, receiving a GED, associate's, bachelor's, and master's degree from prison.
"He always maintained an optimism and a certain hope that this day was going to come for him," Mr. Kuby told the AP.
Mr. Watkins was murdered while traveling with his brother and parents to the US Open in New York City. When his parents were mugged at a subway station, Watkins defended them and was stabbed in the chest by the muggers, the Times reported in 1990.
This report contains material from the Associated Press.