Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance's office Tuesday pledged to retry a notorious quarter-century-old murder case shortly after a judge vacated the conviction of a Queens man for helping kill Utah tourist Brian Watkins in a 1990 subway gang mugging.
Vance's announcement followed State Supreme Court Justice Eduardo Prado's dramatic ruling that Johnny Hincapie, 43, one of seven teenagers convicted in a case that helped galvanize public concern about crime, was entitled to a new trial after 25 years in prison.
Prado had heard testimony from three witnesses who said Hincapie was not part of the group that attacked Watkins, and Hincapie's claim that his confession was coerced. The judge refused to clear Hincapie, but said a jury should re-hear the case.
"After 25 years of suffering, after 25 years of injustice, after 25 years of sleepless nights, God just revealed his justice," said Hincapie's father, Carlos, after the ruling was announced.
"I feel wonderful. I feel free!" Hincapie said a few hours later, tears streaming down his cheeks, after he was released from the courthouse, The Associated Press reported.
But Vance's office, in a statement shortly after the ruling, said it was considering an appeal and was "committed" to a retrial if the ruling stands.
"We regret the fact that re-trying the case would subject the family of Mr. Watkins to testifying at another trial, reopening old wounds and forcing them to relive the horror of that night 25 years ago," the statement said.
Hincapie was among a group of teenagers who had come from Queens to go dancing at the Roseland Ballroom. At a Seventh Avenue subway station, some of them tried to rob the Watkins family, in town for the U.S. Open, and Brian Watkins, 22, was stabbed in the chest trying to protect his mother.
The case, coming one year after the assault and rape of a jogger in Central Park, highlighted growing concerns about the city's crime rate. Homicides peaked in 1990 at 2,245, compared to 333 in 2014.
All seven alleged participants in the mugging were convicted of felony murder, a charge that holds all participants in an attack responsible when it results in death.
At hearings earlier this year before Prado, Hincapie, a Colombian native, claimed he was a bystander, one level above the platform at the subway turnstiles during the attack, and three witnesses supported him. Prosecutors disputed the witnesses. Hincapie said he was beaten in a police interrogation to get him to confess.
Hincapie's lawyer, Ron Kuby, of Manhattan, said his client -- who earned high school and college degrees in prison -- was "overcome with joy" at the ruling, but the defense lawyer said Vance "seems to have immense resources to pursue meritless cases out of spite."
Watkins' parents could not be reached for comment.