Geoffrey J. Derrick's habeas corpus petition earns client his freedom after 18 years of wrongful imprisonment
With input from students, BU Law created Post-Graduate Full-Time Public Service Fellowships in 2011 to assist recent J.D. graduates in obtaining entry-level positions and careers in government or nonprofit organizations. Geoffrey J. Derrick (’12) was one such student, and he recently sent along the following good news regarding his fellowship at New York City’s Center for Appellate Litigation.
To give you some brief background on the case, our client Mr. Perez and six other co-defendants were indicted for two 1995 Bronx murders (one of a livery cab driver and one of a Federal Express executive) and were tried at three separate trials. A jury acquitted one co-defendant and another successfully appealed his conviction on direct appeal. The remaining five co-defendants, including Mr. Perez, were convicted of both murders on the theory that they were hit men in a murder-for-hire operation. All five have professed their innocence since the day of their conviction. Strangely, the investigation leading to these convictions was profiled in New York Magazine in a June 12, 1995 article entitled, “How to Solve a Murder.”
In 2004, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York used a federal plea deal to turn two Bronx gang members into federal cooperators and secured three federal gang convictions with their testimony. As a condition of their federal plea deal, these two gang members had to proffer to all of their charged and uncharged criminal conduct. They each described in great detail how they killed a livery cab driver in the Soundview neighborhood of the Bronx in 1995 and used the cab driver’s phone to call their home. The U.S. Attorney spoke to the Bronx DA in 2004 to see the if there were any cases matching those facts, but the Bronx DA only checked its open cases, not the closed ones.
In 2012, one of my client’s co-defendants somehow got word in prison that two gang members had confessed to a cab driver murder similar to the one for which he was convicted. He wrote to the U.S. Attorney’s Office which conducted a painstakingly thorough investigation of the crimes after reading his letter. Phone records confirmed that the deceased cab driver's phone was used to call the home of the two federal cooperators. The U.S. Attorney’s investigation concluded that “the evidence is overwhelming that [Gilbert] Vega and [Jose] Rodriguez,” two members of the gang Sex, Money, Murder, “acting alone, robbed and shot Baithe Diop on January 19, 1995, causing his death.” We wrote and filed our state habeas motion claiming that the U.S. Attorney’s Office affidavit was new evidence that required vacating both of our client’s murder convictions. The Bronx DA ultimately agreed after several months of investigating the case on its own.
It was a truly wonderful experience to see our client and the others walk out of the Bronx courthouse as free men. It was an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life and that will certainly shape the work that I intend to do as a public interest attorney. I am very grateful to BU Law for the opportunity to undertake this important work in my first year out of law school.