A former Central Islip man who served 26 years in prison for three gas station robberies argued in Suffolk County Court that his convictions should be vacated because police and prosecutors withheld evidence that would have led to an acquittal.
At Rodolfo Taylor's two trials in 1984, prosecutors presented witnesses who picked him out at lineups as the man who committed the armed robberies. It wasn't until more than 20 years into his sentence that he found out that two of those witnesses had previously identified another man as the robber, and that another witness had picked out a third man.
Taylor's appellate attorneys argued Monday that his trial attorney should have been told that under what is known as the Brady rule, which generally requires prosecutors to turn over evidence that could lead to acquittal. If the trial lawyer -- and the juries -- had known of those identifications, the outcome would have been different, attorney Kirk Brandt of the Legal Aid Society argued.
"These statements were crucial to the defense," he told Judge Stephen Braslow. "Without them, the defense was severely handicapped."
But Assistant District Attorney Guy Arcidiacono said the statements weren't important.
"Most of these statements don't really mean much of anything," he said, and no one can remember now if they were turned over or not.
Taylor, who now lives in Brooklyn, said outside court that even though he is free again, it is important to vacate the convictions "to clear my name. . . . I was done a serious injustice, and I had no idea about it until I got the paperwork."
He was released from prison in 2010.
Braslow initially refused to give Taylor a hearing, concluding that it was "nearly impossible" after all this time to know whether the earlier witness statements had been turned over to Taylor's trial lawyer, Martha Rogers. But in April the Appellate Division, Second Department, ruled that Taylor had a right to a hearing.
Rogers testified, during questioning by Legal Aid attorney Louis Mazzola, that the trials focused on the identification of Taylor.
"The evidence against the defendant was primarily identification evidence," she said. "The key question was who had done it."
Braslow prevented Mazzola from asking Rogers what she would have done with evidence that witnesses had earlier identified other people as the robber. "This is a defense attorney's dream, to have gotten this kind of impeachment evidence," Mazzola said.
Former Assistant District Attorney Georgia Tschiember testified that her file from the case doesn't indicate the existence of other statements. "If I'd had it, I would have turned it over, of course," she said.
Braslow will decide the case after both sides submit written arguments in September.