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Defense seeks reversal of murder conviction, alleges misconduct by ex-prosecutor

Glenn Kurtzrock in 2016.

Glenn Kurtzrock in 2016. Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Another murder case tried by a disgraced former Suffolk homicide prosecutor will soon be the subject of legal proceedings that could result in the reversal of a conviction because of claims of legal and ethical misconduct.

Jairon Gonzales Martinez, 31, of Brentwood, was convicted of second-degree murder in 2013 for taking part in an MS-13 gang beating that left Rumaldo Bethancourt Lopez, 29, dead outside a pool hall. Defense attorney Michael Brown on Tuesday asked State Supreme Court Justice Mark Cohen to assign him to the case so he can file a motion to set the conviction aside. Gonzales Martinez is serving 33 years to life in prison.

The defendant was prosecuted by former Assistant District Attorney Glenn Kurtzrock, who was forced to resign later after he was caught withholding evidence from the defense in another case, a violation of what is known as the Brady rule. That rule generally requires prosecutors to disclose evidence favorable to the defense.

Several cases tried by Kurtzrock since then  have been dismissed or resulted in reduced charges after the district attorney's office found that evidence had been withheld in those cases, too.

Brown said the same thing happened in  the Martinez case. He said that in December 2017, long after the trial's conclusion, he received a stack of documents from the district attorney's office full of material he had never seen before.

"Certainly these documents would have been valuable during the trial, particularly during the cross-examination of the lead detective," Brown told Cohen.

Later, Brown said those documents included pages from detectives' notebooks, Crimestopper tips, witness statements and identifications — many of which concerned a previously unknown suspect. Homicide detectives were concerned enough about that suspect that they went to Florida to look for him, Brown said. But that information was kept from him.

"There was a significant lead  on another person involved in this murder," Brown said later. "The prosecutor on this case determined what he was going to turn over, and what [he] wasn't going to turn over, in violation of the Constitution. If you're on a ballfield, that's called cheating."

In court, Kerriann Kelly, chief of the Homicide Bureau in the district attorney's office, said only that a federal judge had declined earlier to overturn the conviction of Gonzales Martinez, finding there was "overwhelming evidence" of guilt. But that decision came before the district attorney's office disclosed the evidence it had previously withheld.

District Attorney Timothy Sini has often said he is holding his office to high ethical standards. He has sought to distance his office from Kurtzrock, noting that his misdeeds happened under the administration of Sini's predecessor, Thomas Spota.

“We will review the motion once it has been filed and take all appropriate steps to ensure justice is served,” said Sheila Kelly, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office.

Kurtzrock's attorney, David Besso, said anything that was withheld in the Gonzales Martinez case was of no consequence, because the evidence of guilt was so overwhelming. Several witnesses identified Gonzales Martinez as one of the people attacking Bethancourt Lopez with bricks, bats and metal poles, and Besso said his blood and that of another surviving victim were recovered from the defendant's clothing.

Besso said he believed the court "will find no misconduct on Glenn's part" in this case.

Separately, Kurtzrock is the subject of a suit by the Innocence Project, a group that fights wrongful convictions, seeking to force the Grievance Committee for Nassau and Suffolk Counties to unseal its records regarding any disciplinary proceedings against Kurtzrock. Disciplinary actions normally are secret unless the committee moves to take action against a lawyer.

Both Kurtzrock and the Grievance Committee have opposed the suit, which has yet to be decided by the Appellate Division Second Department.

Meanwhile, Kurtzrock is working as a defense attorney. He promotes himself on his website as an experienced former homicide prosecutor.

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