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Claude Bird found not guilty of 1993 bank heist

Bronx resident Claude Bird, a 42-year-old Jamaican national,

Bronx resident Claude Bird, a 42-year-old Jamaican national, was acquitted of armed robbery charges. In this photo released Monday, May 17, 2010 by the Nassau County Police Department, he is shown in photos from 1993, left, and from his mug shot after being arrested. Credit: AP

The robbery trial of a Jamaican national who'd been accused of acting as a gunman in what authorities called Nassau County's biggest bank heist ended Monday in an acquittal.

Authorities had alleged Claude Bird, 42, of the Bronx, was part of the March 1993 robbery at a Lake Success bank that netted $241,000 -- money that prosecutors said was never found.

Bird raised a fist in the air and thanked Jesus Christ aloud after State Supreme Court Justice George Peck announced his verdict in a Mineola courtroom.

"Praise the Lord," Bird also said as he left court with family.

Bird's attorney Toni Marie Angeli of Garden City said they were very grateful to Peck "for applying the law."

The heist happened right after an armored truck's money delivery, and authorities said it was an inside job that involved bank teller Nadine Smith and Bird's cousin, Norman Palmer, both of whom served prison time for the crime.

Authorities were never able to arrest the man they suspected of being the other masked robber who went into the bank before the suspects made off with a bag of money from the vault.

Palmer, 43, of Suffolk County, had testified that he was involved in planning the robbery and was there to be a lookout. But he also said during Bird's trial that his memory was "foggy" and denied having seen Bird with a gun outside the bank, or driving anyone away after the robbery.

Police said they arrested Bird in 2010 in the Bronx after he applied for a driving permit under his real name, after previously getting a license in a dead man's name and living under that identity for years.

Authorities said Bird lived as a fugitive after slipping out of their sights after first confessing to Jamaican police, then to Nassau detectives in a Jamaican jail, in 1994. They said Bird later escaped from a Jamaican jail while awaiting extradition to the United States, but the defense said a Jamaican judge released Bird after not finding legal justification for his detention after months in custody.

A Nassau judge dismissed Bird's indictment in 2011 after finding that the government violated his right to a speedy trial, a decision an appellate court reversed.

A hearing judge decided before the trial that authorities could use Bird's statement to Nassau detectives at trial, but ruled Bird's confession to Jamaican police couldn't be used because of conditions "that shock the judicial conscience."

But before announcing his verdict, Peck said he also threw out the statement Bird made to Nassau detectives. He said Bird was housed in "deplorable conditions" for at least 11 days before then, and that the prosecution hadn't proved that the defendant's right to counsel wasn't violated and that the statement wasn't tainted.

Peck said he also discounted Palmer's testimony because the witness "intentionally gave false testimony to material facts," and that the remaining evidence wasn't enough to convict Bird.

Angeli had argued that Bird's statement to Nassau detectives was illegally obtained, saying her client at the time was being held in a dirt-floored cell, denied food and water and being "kept away from his lawyer."

The defense also had attacked the government's case by citing lost evidence and by saying that Bird was shorter than the suspect whom witnesses described.

The Nassau district attorney's office declined to comment after the verdict.

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