John-Adrian Velazquez was convicted of second-degree murder for the shooting death of a retired New York Police Department officer, Albert Ward, in 1998 and was sentenced to twenty-five years to life in Sing-Sing prison.
Velazquez has always maintained his innocence, claiming he was at home speaking with his mother on the phone at the time of the robbery and shooting, and produced phone records at his trial in an attempt to prove his innocence.
In 2002, Velazquez started writing letters to NBC’s Dateline, challenging the show to find evidence of his guilt. Last year, Dateline NBC highlighted the investigation of Velazquez’s case. Their investigation and new information discovered, leads Dateline investigators to suggest Velazquez may have been wrongfully convicted in the shooting death of Albert Ward.
Questions concerning Velazquez’s involvement in the shooting arose even before his conviction.
- Police records state that within hours of the shooting, all witnesses gave the same description of the shooter as a “light-skinned black male, with dreadlocks or cornrows.” The initial description of the gunman bears no resemblance to Velazquez, as he has never worn his hair in dreadlocks or cornrows and is Hispanic, not black.
- Derry Daniels, who was identified as the accomplice, pleaded guilty to acting as Velazquez’s accomplice in the crime. However, Velazquez claimed he has never met Daniels and the DA acknowledges there is no evidence linking the two men.
- The key witness to identify Velazquez as the gunman, Augustus Brown, later recanted, saying he just picked Velazquez’s photo randomly from the hundreds he was show by police. Why would police believe Brown, a heroin dealer, when he picked out a Hispanic man after looking at more than 1800 photographs over eight hours?
- Why did the police and DA stop investigating leads about a gunman with cornrows or dreadlocks known as Mustafa who was, according to NYPD records, the prime suspect?
- Why didn’t the DA inform the jury about the original suspect Mustafa when Velazquez was on trial?
After Dateline aired the show on Velazquez, his case was re-investigated by the Manhattan DA’s Integrity Unit for eighteen months. The Manhattan’s DA office came to the conclusion that its re-investigation into Velazquez’s case found no evidence to warrant tossing the verdict, and therefore, will not reverse his second-degree murder conviction.
Defense attorneys for Velazquez called the DA’s decision “unjust” and a “tragedy” and vowed they will continue to fight to free their client.
Robert Gottlieb, one of Velazquez’s attorneys, said he will file a court motion to vacate his client’s conviction. Once filed, this motion means a judge will ultimately make the final decision on whether or not Velazquez’s conviction for second-degree murder will stand.