FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, February 22, 2019
Brooklyn DA Moves to Vacate Murder Conviction
In Connection With 2001 Killing Outside Sunset Park Strip Club
Defendant’s Confession Was Used at Trial Even Though It Contained a False Fact – That Victim Was Stabbed, not Shot; Detective Notes That Could Have Helped Defense Were Not Disclosed
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez today announced that following a thorough investigation by his Conviction Review Unit (CRU), he will move to vacate the murder conviction against Bladimil Arroyo, 39, who has been incarcerated since 2001. The investigation found that the defendant was deprived of a fair trial because the only direct evidence against him consisted of a confession that included a false fact likely transmitted to him by police – that the victim was stabbed rather than shot – and certain detective notes were not disclosed to the defense. Arroyo is the 25th individual whose conviction has been vacated by Brooklyn’s CRU since it was established in 2014. The full report of the CRU’s investigation and its recommendations on lessons learned is available here.
District Attorney Gonzalez said, “While we cannot say that Mr. Arroyo was not involved in this crime, a thorough investigation by my Conviction Review Unit has concluded that he was deprived of a fair trial, and this undermines our confidence in his conviction. Confirmation bias and nondisclosure of certain police documents led to this outcome and I am confident that policy changes that have been made over the ensuing years and additional recommendations by the CRU will ensure that these mistakes are not repeated. I remain fully committed to correcting every past injustice that took place in Brooklyn.”
Arroyo will appear in court today at 2:15 p.m. before Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Matthew D’Emic at 320 Jay Street, 15th floor.
The District Attorney said that in the early morning hours of September 16, 2001, Gabor Muronvi, who was walking with a friend, was killed near the Sweet Cherry strip club in Sunset Park, Brooklyn during a botched robbery. Arroyo was apprehended a short time later after police followed a car that left the crime scene, leading to him and to a co-defendant, who was injured during the confrontation with the victim and his friend. A doctor informed police that the victim died from a stab wound to the heart.
Later that day, Arroyo confessed to trying to rob the two men and to stabbing the victim “in the upper chest” during a struggle. He was charged that afternoon with murder and related counts. The next day, the Medical Examiner reported that the autopsy showed the cause of death to be a single gunshot to the chest and that the victim was not stabbed.
The case proceeded and Arroyo’s confession was used at trial, with the prosecutor suggesting to the jury that the defendant confessed to using a knife in an attempt to minimize his culpability in the fatal shooting. The victim’s friend, who survived the attack and initially told police there were three assailants, testified that there were only two. He did not identify Arroyo at trial.
Arroyo was convicted in November 2002 of second-degree murder, attempted robbery and assault. He was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison. (His co-defendant pleaded guilty to attempted robbery and was sentenced to nine years in prison.)
The investigation by the CRU revealed that police accounts concerning Arroyo’s confession – which was false in regard to the murder weapon – were incomplete at best and misleading at worst because they did not explain how Arroyo came to describe erroneous facts that police believed to be true at the time. The CRU also discovered that several documents were not turned over to defense and should have been: detective notes about the surviving victim’s identification of another individual as a possible attacker; notes containing a detective’s initial statement that there were three people in the car that left the scene; notes containing the same detective’s description of the car’s passenger, which didn’t match the defendant; and untimely disclosure of the surviving victim’s past conviction, which allowed him to testify falsely about the circumstances of that conviction. These documents would have helped the defense argue against the prosecution’s theory that only two attackers were involved in the crime, a theory that validated the defendant’s confession. The CRU therefore recommended vacating Arroyo’s conviction.
The CRU also found that because the crime happened a few days after the September 11 terrorist attacks, usual processes of obtaining police reports were disrupted and documents were received late and piecemeal. The investigation could not ascertain when, if at all, the non-disclosed items were received.
The CRU issued the following recommendations to ensure that the circumstances leading to this wrongful conviction are not repeated: 1. Video recording of interrogations and statements, which is largely mooted by recent legislation requiring video interrogations of persons accused of serious crimes. 2. Training all prosecutors on confirmation bias, which likely led the prosecution in this case to move forward even after new evidence had emerged that conflicted with the defendant’s confession. Prosecutors believed the defendant was trying to minimize his conduct and did not pause to explore the possibility that he was fed facts and provided a false account. The tendency of people to embrace information that supports their existing beliefs and reject information that contradicts those beliefs is pervasive and comes up repeatedly in the practice of criminal law. 3. Improved discovery practices, which were not subject to a uniform protocol when this case was tried. An open file discovery policy has since been instituted in Brooklyn, which includes disclosures at a much earlier stage than the statutory requirements and creates a clear record of what was turned over. That policy will soon improve further with a transition to electronic discovery, which is part of DA Gonzalez’s Justice 2020 action plan. Together, these changes reduce the chances of documents being mismanaged.
To date, the work of the Conviction Review Unit has resulted in 25 convictions being vacated, including Arroyo’s. In addition, the CRU has found that of the cases reviewed thus far, 60 convictions are just and not recommended for vacatur. Approximately 100 cases are pending review.
This case was investigated by Senior Assistant District Attorneys Tamara Edelstein and Lori Glachman, of the District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit, and Assistant District Attorney Eric Sonnenschein, Deputy Unit Chief, under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney Mark Hale, Unit Chief, and the overall supervision of Tali Farhadian Weinstein, General Counsel.