Judge overturns 1985 murder conviction

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Seventeen years after he was jailed for a murder outside a Richmond Hill bingo hall he did not commit and 13 years after a mob hit man confessed to the killing, tears rolled down the face of a Brooklyn man last week as a Queens judge overturned the conviction.

Fortune finally changed for Angelo Martinez, 36, who had been confined to prison since he was 19 by an unusual set of circumstances that pinned the slaying of 70-year-old Rudolph Marasco, of Richmond Hill, on him.

A reinvestigation of the case conducted by the Queens district attorney’s office beginning last August led Justice Stephen Fisher of State Supreme Court in Queens to throw out the murder charge.

“The conviction of the innocent is what frightens us all,” said Fisher as he looked toward Martinez. “I know the consequences for you and your family have been terrible. I can only express my sorrow on behalf of the entire system.”

Despite the dismissal, Martinez will remain behind bars for as many as 14 more years because he was convicted in 1993 of selling cocaine to other inmates at the Southport Correctional Facility in Elmira, NY.

A grateful Martinez did not let further jail time stop him from savoring the moment. Seated beside his attorney, Mark Potashnick, he waved at a cousin who sat in the courtroom and flashed her a smile. Then he addressed the court, thanking Assistant District Attorney Charles Testagrossa for leading the new investigation into the crime.

“I’d just like to thank you, Mr. Testagrossa, for doing your job,” he said. “You gave me back my life.”

Martinez also paid tribute to his mother, who was not in the courtroom for the hearing, but who arrived later in the afternoon. She has visited him in prison on a regular basis over the past 17 years.

“I’d like to thank my family, my mother. She has been my rock,” he said. “She’s been there throughout everything.”

Martinez was sentenced to 25 years to life after a jury convicted him of the April 10, 1985 murder of Murasco outside a bingo hall on Atlantic Avenue near 110th Street. He was identified by an eyewitness as the person who committed the shooting.

In 1989, Queens prosecutors found out a federal prisoner with mob ties, Charles Rivera, admitted to the killing as a favor to his mother. A landlord who had a romantic relationship with Rivera’s mother wanted to rid himself of the elderly Murasco as a tenant so he could sell his building, prosecutors said.

But Rivera failed an FBI administered polygraph exam on his role in the murder and Queens Assistant District Attorney James Quinn turned the information over to Martinez’s trial attorney, Jenny Maiola. Maiola, who was later disbarred on charges of stealing $300,000 from clients, never filed a motion to dismiss.

A year ago, while looking into a separate case of a possible wrongful conviction, Quinn decided to reopen the Martinez case. Testagrossa was appointed to investigate.

“Mr. Quinn always had in the back of his mind that there might be some truth in spite of the fact that he failed the polygraph,” said Testagrossa.

Testagrossa reinterviewed Rivera and determined that his version of the story fit in with the facts of the crime. “There’s no way anybody could have known these details without having been there,” Testagrossa told Judge Fisher in court.

The final piece of the puzzle came when Testagrossa found another man, Michael Marino, who told them he had driven Rivera to the bingo hall and had heard him say, “I shot the old guy,” the assistant DA said in court.

Martinez, who had a prior conviction for felony assault, pleaded guilty in 1993 to selling cocaine to other inmates, making him a three-time felony offender. He was sentenced as a career criminal to 24 years in jail, about 10 of which he has already served.

Potashnick said he was confident he would get Martinez’s time behind bars reduced because the lengthy drug sentence was based, in part, on his unjustified murder conviction.

“It can be shortened dramatically,” he said.

Potashnick said Martinez told him he turned to selling drugs as a last resort with the hope he could raise sufficient funds to hire a private investigator.

Posted 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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