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Freeport man's murder conviction overturned

A state appellate court has overturned a Freeport man's 2006 murder conviction, saying that his lawyer should have been allowed to present evidence that pointed to a different suspect in the case.

Terrell Clinkscaleas, who was 17 at the time of the murder, is currently serving 15 years to life in an upstate prison.

Prosecutors say Clinkscaleas and two other teenagers killed Jose Benitez, 36, in a botched robbery attempt in Roosevelt. Benitez, who was struck on the head, died days later.

This is the second time that the 2006 conviction has been overturned. Soon after a Nassau jury convicted Clinkscaleas in July 2006, the key witness against him recanted his testimony. Nassau County Court Judge Meryl Berkowitz then overturned Clinkscaleas' conviction, the prosecution appealed and a higher court sent the case back down to a different judge. That judge held a hearing to determine the recanting witness' credibility and restored the conviction.

Clinkscaleas had signed a written confession to the crime, although his lawyer, Michelle Armstrong of Uniondale, says he did so under duress. In 2006, prosecutors dropped charges against the other two suspects in the case, who did not make statements to police.

In the Nov. 23 appellate decision, the panel overturned Clinkscaleas' conviction saying that his lawyer should have been allowed to call witnesses who, the defense contended, would have testified that another man, Rodney McClean, had told them that he beat Benitez with a baseball bat and robbed him. McClean asserted his right to remain silent at Clinkscaleas' trial. Berkowitz had ruled that the defense could not call witnesses who would testify that McClean had confessed to them.

A spokeswoman for Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice would not comment on the case.

Prosecutors now must decide how to proceed with the case. "If they go forward with [the trial], it would have to be on the statement alone," Armstrong said.


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