In early September, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez made headlines by announcing that his office will dismiss 378 low-level convictions linked to 13 former NYPD officers found guilty of misconduct. Yet that same week saw the office wrap up its defense of a murder conviction that many leading exoneration advocates view as fundamentally flawed.
Although he is the most progressive of the city’s five DAs, Gonzalez and his office often dig in their heels when challenged — and in the case of Anthony Sims, Brooklyn prosecutors have been fighting to preserve a conviction based on the word of an extremely dubious witness.
Sims’ post-conviction hearing started last fall and ended in early September. Brooklyn Judge Danny Chun will now decide whether Sims’ 1999 conviction stands, with a decision expected in early December.
From his 1998 arrest for a Bushwick murder through his parole hearing this past summer, Sims has never wavered in asserting his innocence. Sims’ stellar record while in prison enabled him to gain parole on his first attempt, and he will be released in November. Sims now hopes to replicate fellow Brooklyn exonerees Derrick Hamilton, John Bunn, Sundhe Moses and Gerard Domond, all of whom saw their convictions overturned while they were out on parole.
“Anthony should not have been in prison in the first place,” Brooklyn exoneree Jabbar Collins told the parole board in his letter in support of Sims, whom Collins spent time with at Green Haven prison in the early 2000s. Brooklyn State Senator Julia Salazar, in whose district the 1998 murder occurred, also expressed both strong support for Sims’ parole and “serious doubts” regarding his guilt. Salazar noted that she is “convinced that Anthony did not receive a fair trial, in part due to the improper withholding of exculpatory information and evidence by the prosecutors.”
There has never been any dispute that along with his friend Julius Graves, Sims entered a Chinese food restaurant and the counterman Li Run Chen was then murdered. Sims’ legal team contends that Graves, not Sims, shot Chen. According to Graves’ girlfriend’s testimony in the recent hearing, Chen had made unwanted sexual advances toward her on the day of the murder, making Graves angry at Chen. The hearing also focused on evidence not provided to Sims at trial regarding an eyewitness whose claim that Graves was the killer shows up in a police report from the time.
As The Indypendent reported, Julius Graves has provided multiple different accounts of what happened at the crime scene, testifying in the 1999 trial that he was inside the storefront when the shots rang out but stating under oath last year that he was outside. On the stand last fall, Graves admitted to two lies during his original trial testimony — including that he had been meeting regularly with his probation officer. In his September summation, Sims’ lead attorney Ilann Maazel declared that Graves is a “serial, pathological liar.”
Maazel showed that trial prosecutor Mark Hale (former head of Brooklyn’s Conviction Review Unit) made Graves’ claims central to his summation. “Ladies and gentlemen,” Hale told the jury, Graves “was inside the store and he saw Sims” fire the shotgun. In the recent hearing, Hale claimed to remember nothing about the case. During his two appearances last fall, Graves gave two different explanations of where outside the restaurant he supposedly was.
“He has no respect for this court,” Maazel said of Graves. “He has no respect for the truth.” The packed courtroom included prominent exoneration advocates Jeffrey Deskovic, Elizabeth Felber and Derrick Hamilton, each of whom told The Indypendent that they viewed Maazel’s summation as “devastating.”
Brooklyn ADA Ernest Chin responded by deriding Sims’ team’s claim as “a massive conspiracy.” He called the testimony of one of Sims’ key witnesses “a concoction.” Julius Graves, Chin insisted, had “remained consistent” in his account from trial through the recent hearing.
Chin further presented Graves’ conflicting statements regarding his location at the time of the shotgun blast as understandable. “Julius Graves was watching a murder that Sims perpetrated,” Chin said. “He wasn’t watching where his feet were placed.”
In response, Maazel observed that “it’s kind of remarkable” that the DA’s office would rely on “a serial perjurer [as] their main witness.” And as he reminded Judge Chun, the jury never heard about Graves’ anger towards the victim as a motive.
During the trial, Sims’ defense attorney told the jury that Graves committed the murder. Upon conviction, Sims then met with parole officials for a Pre-Sentence Report. As the report summarizes, Sims “stated that he was asked by a friend to go with him to a Chinese restaurant and that the friend shot the deceased.” Unlike Graves, Sims has thus told the same story from day one.
“We’re over the moon regarding Anthony’s parole status,” says Keisha Sims, Anthony’s wife and number-one advocate. “But we’d rather celebrate his exoneration.”
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