Facing a hearing on evidence in a 24-year-old murder case, Manhattan prosecutors have subpoenaed notes and records from a City Limits reporter’s 2010 investigation that raised questions about whether an imprisoned man is guilty.
The reporter, Bill Hughes, 50, says he will not comply with the request.
Johnny Hincapie was 18 when he was arrested and charged with several other teens in the infamous killing of Brian Watkins, a young Utah tourist who died defending his family from muggers in the 7th Avenue/53rd Street subway station in September 1990. Hincapie confessed to a police detective but claims that was coerced.
Hughes’ article, “The Murder That Changed New York City,” examined weaknesses in the case against Hincapie, who was charged with having been part of the crew that assaulted the Watkins, though not of actually stabbing Watkins.
The story drew noted defense lawyer Ron Kuby to the case, and his firm helped Hincapie win an upcoming evidentiary hearing on their motion to vacate the conviction. (Coverage of the case, including the prosecution’s arguments against Hincapie, is here.)
Convicted of murder in the second degree as well as first- and second-degree robbery, Hincapie went to prison in early 1992 and is currently in the Fishkill Correctional Facility on a 25-years-to-life sentence. Now 42 years old, Hincapie had a parole hearing this week.
Hughes—a former reporter for the North Jersey Herald News and the Journal News who now teaches journalism at York College—earlier submitted an affidavit about his investigation to the court in 2013 describing his investigation, which continued after the 2010 article.
The sweeping subpoena asks for notes, diary entries, recordings, emails and more pertaining to Hughes’ interactions with nine people, including Hincapie, two of Hincapie’s former lawyers and six men connected to the 1990 incident. It threatens Hughes with possible prosecution for contempt of court, imprisonment for up to a year and a $1,000 fine if he refuses to comply.
Hughes tells City Limits he will move to quash the subpoena. “I guess the Manhattan District Attorney’s office isn’t satisfied with wrongfully convicting an 18-year-old kid, now they want to add threatening to jail reporters to their list of questionable practices,” Hughes says.
Citing the pending case, the district attorney’s office declined to comment.
The Hincapie article won a 2011 Prevention for a Safer Society award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. Hughes has also written for City Limits on waste-to-energy programs, problems with smoke detectors and challenges facing applicants for parole.