An appellate court Wednesday upheld a Suffolk judge's decision to throw out a murder conviction after finding that prosecutors withheld evidence from the defense that might have led to an acquittal.
The decision by the Appellate Division Second Department says state Supreme Court Justice Martin Efman was correct to reverse the conviction of Gabriel Hubbard, 22, of Wyandanch.
Hubbard was convicted in 2012, at age 19, in the fatal 2008 shooting of Jaquan Jones in Wyandanch.
Both Efman and the appellate court now have ruled that Suffolk prosecutors should have told defense lawyers that the same detective who took Hubbard's confession had earlier gotten a false confession from Thomas Moroughan, a cabdriver charged with assaulting off-duty Nassau police officers who had shot him in 2011.
Under what is known as the Brady rule, prosecutors generally are obligated to turn over to defendants any information they have that could be helpful to their defense.
"I'm really elated," said Hubbard's appellate attorney, Louis Mazzola of the Legal Aid Society of Suffolk. The decision shows how difficult it is for defense lawyers to get evidence to which they're entitled and how that can lead to wrongful convictions, he said.
Suffolk prosecutors were displeased with the ruling.
"We disagree with the court's decision, particularly their conclusion that the prosecutor had actual knowledge of the information at issue," even though the same prosecutor handled both cases, said Robert Clifford, spokesman for the district attorney's office. "We are considering all of our options in the case." It is up to prosecutors now to decide whether to further appeal the decision by a four-judge panel, proceed with a new trial against Hubbard or dismiss the case.
The appellate court said Hubbard's conviction hung almost entirely on the confession Det. Ronald Tavares said he took from Hubbard. "There was no physical evidence connecting the defendant to the crime, and the eyewitnesses could not identify him," the appeals court said.
If the defense had known of the problems with the Moroughan statement before Hubbard's 2012 trial, "there is a reasonable possibility the outcome of the trial would have differed," the court ruled, adding that because the same prosecutor handled both the Moroughan and Hubbard cases, he had to know of the problems with the Moroughan statement.
Hubbard was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison, the maximum for a juvenile offender.
"There is no question in my mind the outcome would have been different" if the defense and the jury knew that Tavares had obtained a false confession from Moroughan, Mazzola said.
Assistant District Attorney Raphael Pearl dismissed the charge against Moroughan in June 2011 because he said the Nassau officers were not credible. A Nassau police internal affairs report later found that Moroughan's statement, taken while Moroughan was sedated and demanding to speak to his attorney, was not credible.
Pearl also prosecuted Hubbard but did not disclose the problems with the Moroughan statement to his lawyer. Tavares got a confession from Hubbard, who was 17 when he was interrogated. It was the only evidence connecting Hubbard to the July 2008 shooting of Jones in a Wyandanch gang dispute.
During its deliberations, the Hubbard jury focused almost entirely on the validity of his statement to Tavares.
Hubbard's trial attorney, Stephen Drummond of Jamaica, said he hoped prosecutors now "realize they can't prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, and let him go on with his life."
Drummond praised Mazzola for his work on the appeal. "I think he's a phenomenal attorney," Drummond said.