Many of the players in the case of the man who says he was wrongly convicted of a 1990 murder have changed their story over the years. The question at the heart of the latest filing by attorneys for Johnny Hincapie is which versions ought to be accepted, and which should be dismissed.
Hincapie, 41, is one of seven men convicted in the killing of Brian Watkins, a young Utah tourist who died defending his family from a pack of teenaged muggers in a killing that came to epitomize the fear and disorder of early 1990s New York. Currently serving a sentence of 25-years-to-life, Hincapie claims he was not part of the mugging but made a false confession to the crime after mistreatment by NYPD detectives. He hopes to vacate his conviction.
City Limits broke the story of his innocence claim in 2010; last week we reported on the claims and counter-claims in recent court filings by defense lawyer Ron Kuby’s office and the Manhattan district attorney.
In a reply to the DA’s papers that was filed on Monday, Hincapie’s lawyers defend their client for admitting to the crime during his pre-sentencing interview in 1991. The DA has argued that admission is at odds with Hincapie’s current claims of innocence.
But Hincapie’s team counters: "The prosecution professes detachment from the reality it helped to create: under certain circumstances, such as before sentencing and at parole hearings, innocent men and women profess their guilt, usually at the advice of counsel, because they have been told that all is lost and the only thing they can hope for is mercy. … There are countless cases where the DANY assistants have thundered that the defendant deserves the maximum sentence because she or he failed to show remorse and instead, clings to the claim of innocence."
The statements of another man who was in the subway station on the night of the murder, Anthony Nichols, are also under scrutiny.
Hincapie has said he was not present at the mugging—and didn’t need to rob anyone for money to get into a dance hall to which the teens were headed—because he’d given his money to Nichols and was at the time of the killing trying to track Nichols down elsewhere in the station.
The DA, however, says it has an affidavit where Nichols denies Hincapie’s claims about the money, and where Nichols adds that he saw Hincapie running with the group of other teens who committed the crime.
But the new defense filling argues that Nichols got a sweetheart deal from prosecutors, and that his statements contradict court testimony given two decades ago, where Nichols said he doesn’t remember who he saw running.
Hincapie’s latest filing also accuses a former prosecutor of lying in a recent affidavit.
A reply from prosecutors is expected soon. But Hincapie’s team insists that the claims and counterclaims about what occurred underground one night 24 years ago won’t be resolved with documents alone. “The issues presently before the Court cannot be determined without a thorough examination of the witnesses proffered by both sides,” the defense memo reads.