Re: Innocent homeless man released from prison in NYC FWD

Mike Steindel (
Sun, 28 Feb 1999 23:36:01 -0800 (PST)

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Once again lazy cops armed with no evidence strike at the first
vulnerable target. What brilliant detective work, one victim says that
maybe he is the guy. Eyewitness is the least reliable of all forms of
evidence. If the cops had been interested in doing their job which is by
the way to investigate even a retarded homeless mans alibi truth and
justice could have prevailed a whole lot sooner. I hope this man sues
the shit out of the city. Quick to justice legislators, Mayors with
corporate america's agenda, lazy cops and underfunded defense attorneys
is no way to have justice for all...In some respects James Wilson is
lucky that he was not standing in a doorway and gunned down in a hail of

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--WebTV-Mail-470279839-1522 Content-Disposition: Inline Content-Type: Message/RFC822 Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7Bit Received: from ( by; Sun, 28 Feb 1999 22:56:24 -0800 (PST) Return-Path: Received: from ( []) by (8.8.8/ms.graham.14Aug97) with ESMTP id WAA21485; Sun, 28 Feb 1999 22:56:22 -0800 (PST) Received: from by (PMDF V5.1-12 #24133) id <> for; Sun, 28 Feb 1999 23:57:48 MST Received: from by (PMDF V5.1-12 #24133) with ESMTP id <>; Sun, 28 Feb 1999 23:57:46 -0700 (MST) Received: from ( []) by (8.9.1/8.9.1) with SMTP id XAA13008; Sun, 28 Feb 1999 23:56:46 -0700 (MST) Received: by (SMI-8.6/SMI-SVR4-CKG 8/29/95) id XAA09186; Sun, 28 Feb 1999 23:56:29 -0700 Received: from by (SMI-8.6/SMI-SVR4-CKG 8/29/95) id XAA09161; Sun, 28 Feb 1999 23:56:26 -0700 Received: from [] ( []) by (8.8.7/8.8.5) with ESMTP id WAA17130 for ; Sun, 28 Feb 1999 22:54:29 -0800 (PST) Date: Sun, 28 Feb 1999 22:54:29 -0800 (PST) From: Tom Boland Subject: Innocent homeless man released from prison in NYC FWD Sender: X-Sender: To: "HOMELESS PEOPLE'S NETWORK list" Message-id: MIME-version: 1.0 Content-type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii" Precedence: bulk FWD New York Times - February 28, 1999 OLD FRIENDS RESCUE MAN WRONGLY JAILED By SUSAN SACHS NY Times Twenty years ago, James Wilson spent a brief but critical few months as a student at Public School 79 in the Bronx. He barely learned to read or write, and because of his mental retardation, he never really grew up. But Wilson made friends. And after the once rambunctious fifth grader became a destitute adult, charged with a robbery he insisted he did not commit, those friends saved him from a nightmare. Wilson, now 31, walked out of Rikers Island jail on Friday afternoon a free man, thanks to two of his former P.S. 79 teachers and dozens of acquaintances who fought a four-month battle to prove that the state had jailed an innocent man. "He's no angel, but he's no criminal," said Ed Prisinzano, a gym teacher who helped organize a neighborhood crusade to rescue Wilson, and who was present when the robbery charge was dismissed. "I never thought for a moment that he could have committed this crime." Wilson was arrested on Oct. 18 shortly after five men were robbed of jewelry and cash at gunpoint in the vestibule of their Bronx apartment building. The police found Wilson nearby, on the platform of the Metro-North station at Fordham. He was fast asleep, with two other homeless young men at his side. None of the stolen goods were found on him, but at least one of the victims said Wilson might have been one of the two men who robbed him. Word of his arrest reached his friends at P.S. 79 a few days later. They could not believe it. "We knew we had to do something," said Wendy Silvera, another of Wilson's grade school teachers who helped campaign to free him. "James would never rob anyone for money. Money doesn't mean anything to him." Wilson left the school early in the sixth grade, but he had remained a familiar presence in the neighborhood, even after his mother and his grandmother, who had cared for him, died. He ate many of his meals a few blocks away, at a food distribution center for the homeless called Part of the Solution, and attended counseling sessions nearby. For years, Wilson would visit his old teachers, sometimes bringing them their mail and smilingly cadging money and candy. "He'd ask me for a dollar here, a dollar there," recalled Prisinzano. "We'd give him food when he came around. We'd give him clothing." When they learned of Wilson's arrest, his friends feared most for his safety. Their first letter, signed by teachers and others who knew him, was sent a few days before Thanksgiving. It pleaded with the Bronx District Attorney, Robert T. Johnson, to protect Wilson. With his "diminished mental capacity," it said, he could become easy prey to other inmates. By then, the proceedings against Wilson were moving swiftly. His lawyer, whom Prisinzano would not identify yesterday, began talking about a plea bargain with the District Attorney's office soon after his arrest. An agreement was reached. No grand jury heard the case. On Dec. 1, Wilson pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of attempted robbery and was given a prison sentence of two years. Prisinzano said that Wilson did not understand what was happening to him and did not understand that he had other options than to accept the plea that his lawyer suggested to him. By then, the teachers were deep into amateur detective work. They searched homeless shelters and soup kitchens for alibi witnesses, talked with the robbery victims, and visited the crime scene. Wilson's sleeping buddies from the Fordham station were frightened to talk, Prisinzano recalled, and had to be coaxed through intermediaries to give their stories to the teachers. More letters were sent to the authorities, this time arguing that evidence collected by Wilson's supporters showed he was not guilty of participating in the robbery in any way. >From a legal and procedural point of view, the District Attorney's office faced an odd situation. Wilson's original lawyer had not filed any motions to withdraw the guilty plea. But the persistence of Wilson's friends paid off. The case was investigated again, and at the District Attorney's instigation, the plea was withdrawn and the charge dismissed. Wilson, as reported by The Daily News yesterday, emerged from the Bronx Criminal Court building beaming. "What was unique about this is that we were moving at the behest of friends of the defendant, not the defendant or his attorney," said Eric Warner, the senior executive assistant in the prosecutor's office. The challenge now for Wilson's friends is to find him a home, supervision and help. Staff members from the Bronx school took up a collection for a small temporary room, but they want a more permanent arrangement. Prisinzano, a teacher for 38 years and a native of the Bronx, said he also wants people to draw a lesson from Wilson's ordeal. "James is not the only innocent man in prison," he said. "And for every innocent one, there's a guilty one out on the street. So you have got to be absolutely sure. You have to have safeguards." END FORWARD **In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this type of information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.** --WebTV-Mail-470279839-1522--