A judge has tossed a murder charge against a Great Neck motorist accused of killing a man by launching him off his car’s hood, saying a Nassau prosecutor’s unethical action tainted a grand jury proceeding that led to an indictment.
Court officials said Christian Arevalo, 20, of Great Neck, is now back to facing his original arrest charges, which included second-degree manslaughter following an August encounter that left Corey Howell dead.
Acting state Supreme Court Justice Christopher Quinn dismissed the indictment in a ruling filed Friday, giving the district attorney’s office 30 days to decide if it will present the case to another grand jury and seek a new indictment. Prosecutors also could appeal to a higher court. Quinn reduced Arevalo’s $1 million bond to $200,000 Thursday, and Arevalo remains in jail.
“In every prosecution, it is the obligation of the district attorney to seek justice. In this presentation, the prosecutors did not meet that obligation,” Quinn’s ruling said.
But Miriam Sholder, a spokeswoman for Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas, released a statement Friday criticizing the ruling.
“The court’s unfounded accusations regarding the ethics of a trusted and respected prosecutor stem from its misapprehension of the facts and the law and we will move to reargue,” she said.
Quinn’s decision said prosecutor Katie Zizza “withheld pertinent information which did not support her theory of events” when speaking to a different judge whom Arevalo’s attorney asked to rule on whether Zizza could ask Arevalo if he’d used cocaine before the crash if Arevalo testified in the grand jury.
The ruling said Arevalo didn’t testify after Zizza told a judge she wanted to question Arevalo about any drug use on the day of the crash because a blood test showed the “active ingredient of marijuana, as well as active cocaine” in Arevalo’s blood hours later. That judge granted permission for her to ask.
But Quinn’s ruling says the prosecutor knew there was another lab report “with an analysis of the defendant’s blood which was inconsistent, or in contradiction” with that result, and didn’t tell the judge or grand jury about it.
Quinn also said the grand jury and judge never heard about a police report that said a vehicle Howell’s brother was driving “was chasing after” Arevalo’s vehicle, and “in a road rage,” before Howell was ejected from the top of Arevalo’s car. It also said the officer who wrote the report saw no indications Arevalo was impaired, according to the judge.
Zizza declined to comment, citing an office policy regarding media inquiries.
Arevalo’s Garden City attorney, Brian Griffin, said Friday that the prosecution “withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense, the grand jury and the court,” and added: “These actions undermine our criminal justice system and need to stop. ”
Police said at the time of Arevalo’s arrest that Howell, 20, jumped on Arevalo’s Nissan as it started moving after the two had an argument that turned physical. They said Howell died after hitting his head when thrown off the car blocks later.
Besides manslaughter, police charged Arevalo with robbery, criminal contempt, reckless endangerment and aggravated unlicensed driving. A grand jury later indicted him on second-degree murder, second-degree manslaughter, reckless endangerment, vehicular manslaughter, driving under the influence of drugs and driving while impaired by a combination of drugs or of alcohol and a drug or drugs.