For more on the Brooklyn DA office’s efforts to defend its own faulty convictions read:
Brooklyn DA’s Office Dances Around Charges It Concealed Crucial Evidence to Win 2005 Murder Conviction of John Giuca, Did the Brooklyn DA’s office get Ronnie Wright’s case Really Wrong? and Rogue Brooklyn Prosecutor Could Soon Face a Day of Reckoning
He was inside the Chinese food joint during the murder. Or he was outside of it.
Given that he was a purported eyewitness to the killing inside the location, this is a rather essential fact — but under oath Julius Graves has given both contradictory accounts.
Graves also currently claims that he’s not sure how his signature ended up on a notarized affidavit in which he states that the police coerced him into identifying Anthony Sims as the murderer. The cops did no such thing, he now maintains.
The validity of Sims’ conviction for the 1998 murder of Li Run Chen, the counterman at the Chinese food joint, is presently the focus of a hearing in Brooklyn State Supreme Court. The Brooklyn DA’s office — under Eric Gonzalez, now a likely candidate for New York attorney general — is continuing to vouch for Graves’ credibility, his perjury notwithstanding. On the stand at the end of October, Graves volunteered that he had told two significant lies during his ’99 trial testimony.
In the ongoing hearing, Sims’ lead attorney Ilann Maazel established that prior to his current testimony, Graves met with prosecutors on several occasions for a total of two to three hours as well as spoke to them numerous times on the phone. That’s a lot of time spent helping a witness get his story straight.
Sims’ team is arguing that trial prosecutor Mark Hale, who until July 1 was the head of the Brooklyn DA’s Conviction Review Unit, withheld evidence and coerced Graves into falsely pinning the murder on Sims. No physical evidence linked Sims to the murder.
Sims contends that while he and Graves were in the Chinese food spot, Graves took out a shotgun and killed Chen, who had allegedly harassed his girlfriend. Graves acknowledges that the shotgun had been kept in his apartment.
Graves also does not dispute that after he and Sims drove away from the murder scene, Graves took the shotgun back to his apartment and wiped it clean of fingerprints. Graves, then 23, proceeded to give the gun to a 14-year-old neighbor to take care of. And he left his fiancée and toddler at their Bushwick apartment to go stay at his sister’s place in Cypress Hills for the next few days.
According to Sims’ attorneys, Graves received substantial benefits for testifying against Sims in his 1999 trial, including over $22,000 in support and help clearing up probation violations. It’s not clear whether Sims’ defense lawyer was informed of the benefits because he is now deceased.
A Charging Rule That No Longer Exists
That the jury acquitted Sims of intentional murder but found him guilty of depraved indifference murder is also a point of contention. In 2006, New York’s highest court ruled that it was no longer permissible for prosecutors to bring the two charges simultaneously. Depraved indifference applies to incidents in which someone shoots into a crowd and kills bystanders, not when a person deliberately shoots someone at point-blank range.
Julius Graves spoke with prosecutors for several hours over various occasions. That’s a lot of time spent helping a witness get his story straight.
Veteran criminal lawyers tell The Indy that prior to 2006, prosecutors regularly combined the two charges, hoping that as in Sims’ case, a jury with doubts about intentional murder would go with the second charge. The penalties were the same, says Ron Kuby, but it “was almost universal for prosecutors to double charge in order to fool the jury into thinking they were exercising some small sort of leniency by choosing depraved indifference.”
During the trial, Assistant DA Hale presented his case against Sims solely on the theory of intentional murder, making no mention of depraved indifference. Although the 2006 ruling did not apply retroactively, the DA’s current team is on shaky ground as they fight to preserve a conviction based on a set of charges that no longer exist.
Meanwhile, there is legislation pending in Albany that updates the post-conviction review process (known as “440 hearings”). Sponsored by Assemblymember Dan Quart, the proposed measure would enable defendants imprisoned on obsolete charges to overturn their convictions, an option that would likely apply to Sims’ case.
The stance of Gonzalez and his team regarding Sims, in short, is anything but progressive. Asked for comment, the DA’s spokesman declined, citing the ongoing hearing.
Sims’ hearing is scheduled to resume on November 19, when Graves will complete his testimony. Rest assured that prosecutors will extensively prep him beforehand.
An earlier version of this report misspelled Ilann Maazel’s first name as Ilaan.
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