Appeals Court Rejects Manhattan DA’s Bid to Undo Ruling on 1990 Murder

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Johnny Hincapie embraces his mother as he leaves the courthouse after getting his conviction overturned on October 6.

Jarrett Murphy

Johnny Hincapie embraces his mother as he leaves the courthouse after getting his conviction overturned on October 6.

A New York State appeals court on Tuesday rejected a bid by the Manhattan district attorney to overturn a 2015 ruling that vacated a conviction related to the infamous 1990s slaying of a Utah tourist.

Hincapie was found guilty of being part of a gang of teenagers who jumped a tourist family in the 53rd Street/7th Avenue subway station on September 2, 1990. One of the group stabbed and killed 22-year-old Brian Watkins, who was defending his mother. Seven men were convicted of the crime, including Hincapie, who confessed to a role.

Hincapie later recanted that confession. In 2010, City Limits published a story by Bill Hughes that identified flaws in the case against Hincapie.

Last October 6, Judge Eduardo Padro rejected a bid by Hincapie’s lawyers for a declaration of actual innocence but said they had met the threshold to get the 1991 conviction thrown out. The case was profiled on NBC’s “Dateline,” and Hincapie spoke about his experience at York College earlier this year.

The Manhattan DA appealed Padro’s ruling, questioning its basis.

In Tuesday’s decision, the Appellate Division, First Department, ruled “there is no basis for disturbing the credibility determinations” made by the lower court.

Prosecutors now must decide whether or not to appeal that ruling. If they don’t appeal, they must decide whether to try Hincapie again.

A spokesperson for the Manhattan DA’s office said on Tuesday, “We are reviewing our options.”

Ron Kuby, one of Hincapie’s defense lawyers, told City Limits in statement: “Johnny Hincapie spent 25 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, and never lost hope or faith. We are all extremely gratified that yet another court has recognized that his trial was unfair, and that the result would have been different had the jury heard all of the evidence.”

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