Detectives who got flawed confession in '11 cabbie shooting are tied to '08 murder case
The Suffolk County detectives who got a discredited confession from a cabdriver shot by an off-duty Nassau County cop in Huntington Station three years ago are facing scrutiny in a separate case, in which an attorney says his client was unfairly convicted after the same detectives coerced him into a false confession.
Appellate attorney Louis Mazzola, of the Legal Aid Society of Suffolk, has filed a motion seeking to overturn his client's murder conviction, and a judge is considering the motion.
Mazzola argued that the outcome of the trial would have been different if the jury had known that the Huntington Station shooting victim made similar claims that Suffolk homicide Dets. Ronald Tavares and Charles Leser denied him access to an attorney and faked his confession.
COMPLETE COVERAGE: Newsday's investigation into LI police departments
CASE STUDIES: Police misconduct | Deadly force incidents
SURVEY: See where your lawmakers stand | Lawmakers respond
Mazzola's motion on behalf of Gabriel Hubbard -- who was convicted in 2012 of shooting to death Jaquan Jones in 2008 in Wyandanch when Hubbard was 15 years old -- revisits the aftermath of the 2011 shooting of cabdriver Thomas Moroughan by then-Nassau Police Officer Anthony DiLeonardo.
Suffolk police initially charged Moroughan with assaulting DiLeonardo and another officer, in part because of a confession Tavares and Leser took from Moroughan while he was in a hospital bed with two bullet wounds. A July 2012 Nassau County police Internal Affairs investigation found key portions of Moroughan's confession couldn't have happened, and Moroughan told investigators that he was denied access to an attorney and that the confession included statements he never made.
Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota empaneled a grand jury to investigate Moroughan's shooting in July 2013, a few weeks after Newsday published details of the case and almost 2 1/2 years after the incident. The grand jury was set to expire in January, but court records show that a new grand jury investigation has been opened. Spota's office declined to comment.
The Nassau Police Department fired DiLeonardo in May, citing the "egregious conduct and breach of public trust" exhibited by DiLeonardo in shooting Moroughan.
Hubbard's allegation that he was denied access to an attorney and coerced into signing a false confession came before Moroughan was shot and then made similar claims. Hubbard litigated his claims at a pretrial hearing in August 2011, two months after Suffolk prosecutor Raphael Pearl dismissed assault charges against Moroughan but before Moroughan's allegations about his confession became public.
Mazzola, of the Suffolk Legal Aid Society, argued in a post-verdict motion that if Hubbard's jury had known allegations regarding how Tavares and Leser treated Moroughan, it likely would have disregarded Hubbard's confession.
"There was little doubt that the outcome of Gabriel Hubbard's case would have been completely different had the jury been given the opportunity to hear and see Detective Tavares challenged with regard to his conduct in the Moroughan case," Mazzola wrote in his motion.
State Supreme Court Justice Martin Efman -- who sentenced Hubbard to 15 years to life in prison, the maximum for a juvenile offender -- this month demanded to see both the Suffolk and Nassau police Internal Affairs units' reports on the Moroughan case. He will review those reports under seal before deciding whether they should be turned over to the Hubbard defense. Efman will then decide whether to conduct a hearing that could lead to Hubbard's verdict being set aside.
Both the Suffolk and Nassau county attorney's offices opposed release of the Internal Affairs reports and have said the Moroughan case has nothing to do with Hubbard's case. Also, Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Glenn Green wrote that the charges against Moroughan were dismissed not because of questions about the confession but because DiLeonardo and another involved officer had been drinking in the hours before the shooting.
"The dismissal on Moroughan was because of the credibility issues presented by the conduct of the off-duty Nassau County police officers, not because of any finding that Detective Tavares did anything wrong," Green wrote.
Green defended Tavares, who was the lead detective, writing that many elements of the statement Moroughan signed were true. Tavares and Leser did not respond to requests for comment placed with the Suffolk Police Department.
Cabbie case cited earlier
This is at least the second time that an attorney has tried to use the Moroughan confession to attack the credibility of the detectives who obtained it.
Last year, another murder defendant who confessed to Tavares, Aston Martin Barth of Central Islip, tried to make the Moroughan case an issue in his defense. State Supreme Court Justice William Condon initially agreed to review Tavares' employment records in chambers but later reversed that decision, ruling the records weren't relevant because prosecutors said they would not call Tavares as a witness. Barth later pleaded guilty.
In the Hubbard case, Efman has agreed to consider the detectives' actions in the Moroughan case and whether the prosecutor should have disclosed related information to the defense. This appears to be the first time a judge is examining the role of the detectives in the Moroughan case.
Under a legal principle known as the Brady rule, prosecutors are required to turn over to defendants any evidence that could lead to a defendant's acquittal, and evidence of misconduct by officers in prior cases could be material that should be turned over.
Because Pearl was the prosecutor for both the Moroughan and Hubbard cases, he should have alerted Hubbard's trial attorney to the claims Moroughan made about Tavares, Mazzola argued. Instead, Mazzola said, Pearl did not disclose it to the defense and vouched for Tavares' character in his closing argument to Hubbard's jury.
"Did you hear any question posed to him about how he's ever been accused of wrongdoing, an IAB investigation, sued by a defendant for violating their right?" Pearl asked jurors in May 2012, almost a year after he'd dismissed charges against Moroughan. "If it existed, don't you think you would have heard about it at this trial?"
Mazzola said that was disingenuous.
"He knew that Detective Tavares has ignored the cabdriver's demand to speak to an attorney" and that Moroughan's confession was false and discredited, Mazzola wrote.
'He was in my face'
Tavares and Leser traveled to Greensboro, North Carolina, to interview Hubbard in April 2010, two years after Jones was fatally shot in Wyandanch, according to documents filed in the case. By then, Hubbard was 17, so detectives were no longer required to have a defendant's guardian present during questioning.
According to Tavares' testimony at a pretrial hearing before Efman in August 2011, he picked Hubbard up for questioning near his high school. He said Hubbard willingly signed a statement describing the shooting and drew sketches of how it happened.
Hubbard, in an affidavit filed with Mazzola's motion in March, disputed that. He said Tavares refused to let him call a lawyer or his guardian, older brother Darryl Ramsey. Tavares became enraged when he said he knew nothing about the murder, Hubbard said.
"He was in my face, yelling and cursing and telling me that I did it and I had better answer up," Hubbard said. "He was so close to me and getting so loud that his saliva was hitting me in the face as he yelled. . . . I was afraid he was going to hit me."
Eventually, Hubbard said he felt he had to do anything to get out of that room.
"I was desperate to get out of there so I followed their directions not really thinking of the hole I was digging for myself," he said.