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Robbery charges dismissed after DA says DNA exonerates defendant

All charges in a February gunpoint robbery were dismissed against Alberto Alvarez, 26, of Hicksville, on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, in Nassau County Court. Alvarez was arrested in March on robbery and weapons charges, but prosecutors said new DNA and cellphone evidence showed he wasn't the culprit. Credit: Newsday / Nicole Fuller

A Nassau County judge dismissed felony robbery, gun and larceny charges against a Hicksville man accused of a February gunpoint street robbery after prosecutors said new DNA and cellphone evidence showed he wasn’t the culprit.

Alberto Alvarez, 26, of West John Street, spent 21 days in jail following his March 10 arrest by Nassau County police on allegations that he robbed a 35-year-old man on Broadway in Westbury.

After Judge Anthony Paradiso agreed to drop all charges against Alvarez, who was facing up to 25 years in prison, the defendant was all smiles as he emerged from the courtroom Tuesday.

“It was hard being accused of something so serious, and really everyone just looking at you like you automatically did it,” Alvarez said. “It’s been really crazy. I thank God it’s over and hope I can get back to my life now.”

Michelle Lewisohn, senior assistant attorney of the Special Operations, Narcotics and Gangs Bureau at the Nassau district attorney’s office, requested the charges be dropped.

“This case must be dismissed,” Lewisohn told the judge. “The body of the evidence from the totality of the investigation does not support that Mr. Alvarez committed this robbery.”

Police arrested Alvarez after the victim identified him from a photo pack as one of two men who robbed him of $500 in cash on Feb. 21 as he walked to his Westbury home, according to court documents. Police had Alvarez’s mug shot from a previous misdemeanor marijuana arrest.

Lewisohn said in court that police also had a statement from a witness and a tipster identifying Alvarez as a suspect.

Alvarez was charged with first-degree robbery and first-degree criminal use of a firearm and fourth-degree grand larceny. He was accused of holding a gun to the victim’s head while demanding money from the man.

But after prosecutors said the witness told police he was only 80 percent sure that Alvarez was one of the suspects, Alvarez’s bail was reduced from $75,000 cash to $1,500, which led to his March 31 release from jail, said defense attorney Jan Goldman of Garden City.

“How are you going to convict someone beyond a reasonable doubt when the victim was only 80 percent sure that that is the perpetrator?” Goldman said. “So that was one of the biggest things to me.”

Alvarez also submitted to a DNA test, which did not match the DNA on a hat purportedly worn by one of the suspects that was left at the scene, the prosecutor said. Cellphone records also showed that his phone was not in the area during the robbery, she said.

Goldman called Lewisohn “completely cooperative” and said the prosecutor handed over evidence favorable to Alvarez’s defense under the Brady rule in a timely manner.

“Today, justice was served,” he said.

However, Goldman said of the police: “Maybe they would have been a little more careful . . . maybe they could have checked out a few tips from the witness . . . and done a little more homework before they arrested him.”

Det. Lt. Richard LeBrun, a police spokesman, said in an email statement in response to questions about the case: “It is the police department’s role to effect arrests based on probable cause and the district attorney’s role to prosecute based on evidence at hand at the time of prosecution which can change due to certain variables.”

Police have not made any other arrests in the case.

Alvarez, who said he fell behind on rent and car insurance payments during his incarceration, said he was especially bothered by nasty comments about him online.

“The comments on the articles and all that: ‘He’s probably illegal; He doesn’t belong in this country.’ So that really hurt me. I was born and raised on Long Island. . . . It was tough.”

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