Now that he is out of office, Joe Hynes has spoken his mind about his former office’s violations of ethical rules in the high-profile Jabbar Collins case, and the fact that he believed Collins was innocent.
In a December deposition, Hynes admitted that he believed Collins was actually innocent when his conviction was thrown out in 2010, and that prosecutorial misconduct had occurred in the case. The deposition was taken in a $150 million lawsuit launched by Collins in response to his wrongful conviction.
In a record of the deposition, which the New York Daily News says it has obtained exclusively, Hynes told Collins’s lawyer, Joel Rudin, that someone involved in that case “failed to inform Collins’ defense lawyer that a key witness had recanted. He offered: “There is absolutely, never has been, any doubt in my mind that it was a clear unethical … act of misconduct.”
Such a concession from the former District Attorney of Kings County is significant given Collins is attempting to seek reparation for the 16 years he endured in prison through the lawsuit. But it also raises the question, why did Hynes continue to defend his attorneys’ prosecution of the case?
In late 2012, Hynes said in a statement to the press that he had no intention of investigating the conduct of Michael Vecchione, who originally tried the case, despite a swathe of evidence that Vecchione threatened witnesses and withheld exculpatory evidence in order to win Collins’ conviction.
Judges have called the prosecution of Collins “shameful” and “horrific,” and Eastern District Judge Frederic Block called out Hyne’s failure to do anything about that disturbing and puzzling.
Though the Daily News does not make mention of any statements Hynes may have made relating to Vecchione’s conduct in the deposition, it does note Hynes’ view that Kevin Richardson, an assistant district attorney who adamantly defended the conviction when it was thrown out in federal court, was wrong:
In a stunning about-face, former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes admitted in a recent deposition that he did not believe a man exonerated for murder was guilty — even though one of his prosecutors insisted, as the man’s conviction was vacated, “We believe in this defendant’s guilt.”…
“The statement that we believe ‘he did it’ was a reference to Kevin Richardson, who believed at the time … that Mr. Collins was guilty,” Hynes explained, according to a transcript of the Dec. 19 deposition, obtained exclusively by the Daily News.
“I didn’t have that view because there was no case anymore,” Hynes said under questioning by Collins’ lawyer, Joel Rudin.
Hynes added that while Richardson may have believed Collins was guilty of murdering Rabbi Abraham Pollack in a 1994 Williamsburg robbery, “I no longer held that position.”
It is a little unclear exactly when Hynes decided Collins was innocent, but from this exchange it seems that Hynes had doubts about Richardson’s statement at the time he made it in 2010. He was obviously feeling pressure to stand by his assistants despite his feelings about Collins’ innocence.
Hynes’ recent admission comes at a welcome moment for Collins as he pursues his lawsuit, but it does not make Hynes’ handling of the case any less shameful. Despite his unethical conduct in this and other cases, Vecchione was never held to account by Hynes; nor did Hynes seek to defend Collins against the accusations of his assistant, Richardson, that he was still guilty while Hynes was still in office.
All Richardson said in dropping the case in 2010 was that the destruction of evidence and problems with witnesses after so many years made the case too difficult to retry.
Hynes may have cleared his own conscience, but that is likely little comfort to Jabbar Collins, who never received a public acknowledgement from Hynes’ office that he had needlessly suffered at its hands.