Read “Rogue Brooklyn Prosecutor Could Soon Face a Day of Reckoning” for more on Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi.
Here’s a story about Brooklyn criminal justice featuring a glamorous prosecutor, a powerful judge, a retired NYPD detective and a prisoner not eligible for parole until 2028.
Detective Frank Contrera worked closely with the two key witnesses in a 2003 murder case at the Fulton Street Mall in Downtown Brooklyn. Contrera showed a current picture of the NYPD’s prime suspect, Jermaine Cox, to at least one of the witnesses, who didn’t identify Cox.
At Cox’s 2005 trial, the prosecutor placed 16 NYPD officers on her list of potential witnesses—but not Contrera. Nor did she provide that detective’s reports regarding the picture identifications to the defense. In court, she nonetheless declared that “every detective” involved in the case affirmed that there was no photo array.
After a jury convicted Cox of second-degree murder in June 2005, Brooklyn Judge Matthew D’Emic sentenced Cox to 25-years-to-life.
Such a result was the handiwork of now-former Brooklyn prosecutor Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi, whose dubiously named reality show True Conviction just began its third season. The show’s publicity continues to tout Nicolazzi’s 35-0 record in winning murder convictions.
Last month, D’Emic, now the top judge in the Brooklyn Supreme Court’s criminal division, issued a problematic ruling denying a hearing that would examine evidence that Nicolazzi did not disclose to Cox’s trial lawyer. The missing material includes Detective Contrera’s reports and notes regarding the two witnesses and the photo array that he showed one of them.
As the Indypendent previously reported, one of the witnesses, April Vasquez, initially stated during the trial that she had been shown a single photo of Cox before identifying him in a lineup. Nicolazzi then took Vasquez, who struggled with heroin addiction, outside the courtroom, and upon their return, Vasquez now claimed that she had misspoke. Judge D’Emic accepted the revised statement.
Four witnesses observed the murder, but only only one identified Cox, albeit without saying he had the murder weapon. Vasquez, who was a few blocks away visiting her parole officer, claimed that she saw Cox fleeing the scene with a knife.
When interviewed by the Brooklyn DA’s office last summer, Contrera asserted that he did not show Vasquez a photo of Cox when he drove her to the lineup, in which she identified Cox. Although Contrera’s is not sworn (under penalty of perjury), in his December ruling D’Emic credits it as true. Nicolazzi also did not provide a sworn statement.
There’s no doubt that Contrera showed the other key witness, Diosado Peralta, a photo of Cox.
In his November 2003 report, Det. Contrera wrote, “I showed Mr. Peralta a photo array of Jermaine Cox and Mr. Peralta did not identify him.” The question is why that report wasn’t disclosed to the defense.
At the trial, Nicolazzi conspicuously did not ask Peralta to identify Cox in the courtroom. Peralta claimed that he “specifically recalled” Cox’s “particularly wavy” hair and “very dark tan” skin tone. But the photo he saw of Cox at the time of the incident was current.
According to Cox’s appeal lawyer, Mark Bederow, the reason Nicolazzi didn’t ask Peralta to identify Cox in the courtroom was because “she knew that he could not and that he had not done so when Contrera showed him Cox’s picture.” In a sworn statement, Cox’s trial lawyer (Stewart Orden) informed Judge D’Emic that if he had received Contrera’s report regarding the photo array, he would have called the detective to testify.
Bederow also represents John Giuca, who was convicted by Nicolazzi three months after Cox. In Giuca’s case, Nicolazzi placed a key witness on her list but never called him—and repeatedly misidentified him as “James” Ingram instead of Joseph Ingram, which conveniently kept the defense from connecting “James” with Joseph Ingram’s 61-page rap sheet. Ten appeals judges found that Nicolazzi had committed misconduct in Giuca’s case.
According to Pace University law professor Bennett Gershman, “when we take into account Nicolazzi’s misconduct generally, any misstatement she makes looms much larger.” In the Cox case, her claim that “every detective” stated there was no photo array only worked because of Contrera’s absence.
Gershman and other lawyers also told the Indypendent that D’Emic’s position that the withheld evidence notwithstanding, the jury could have found Cox guilty of felony murder (i.e. contributing to a crime that results in homicide) is problematic. Such a charge was not before the jury, and it would have fundamentally changed Nicolazzi’s theory that Cox committed the murder.
The next step is for the 2nd Appellate Division to decide whether the issues raised by Bederow merit consideration, at which point the full appeals process would begin. If the court were to overturn D’Emic’s decision, and order a full hearing on the undisclosed evidence, it’s by no means certain that Cox’s conviction will be reversed. But the hearing would force Nicolazzi to explain her actions under oath, which is something that she and her TV producers may want to avoid.
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