FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, February 11, 2020
Brooklyn District Attorney Moves to Vacate Murder Conviction
In Connection With 1995 Stabbing Outside Night Club in Gowanus
Eyewitness Described the Defendant Slashing Victim’s Neck During Gang Assault
But That Account is Contradicted by New Evidence
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 Christian Pacheco, who has been incarcerated since 1995. While the investigation did not uncover any error by the police or prosecution, new evidence shows that the testimony that led to the conviction – which described the defendant slashing the victim’s neck – was not credible. The full CRU report is available here.
District Attorney Gonzalez said, “After a complete and thorough investigation by my Conviction Review Unit, including an examination of newly discovered evidence, we have concluded that the sole eyewitness, who testified to the defendant’s actions in this case, provided an inaccurate and unreliable account.
“While we have not fully cleared Mr. Pacheco from any involvement in this incident, he was unquestionably prejudiced because the testimony presented against him is not supported by a review of the facts and evidence. Simply put, the goal of accurately establishing what happened during this homicide wasn’t achieved during Mr. Pacheco’s trial.
“Due process and fairness are both part of the standards of review in all of our reinvestigations and I therefore must set aside this wrongful murder conviction in the interest of justice. I remain committed to our continuing endeavor to correct all mistakes and injustices that happened in Brooklyn.”
Pacheco appeared in court today before Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Matthew D’Emic who vacated his conviction and dismissed the indictment.
The District Attorney said that on December 2, 1995 at about 1:45 a.m. approximately 15 members of the Latin Kings gang were celebrating a birthday at Con Sabor Latino Lounge at 423 3rd Avenue in Gowanus, Brooklyn. They got into a fight with the victim, Lemuel Cruz, which spilled outside with the Latin Kings punching, kicking and stabbing Cruz, whose neck was also slashed with a razor blade. The evidence showed that Pacheco was also injured that night.
A bouncer at the club testified at trial about seeing the defendant slitting the victim’s throat. The defendant was convicted of second-degree murder along with three other men and was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
In 1994, the federal authorities conducted a citywide investigation into the Latin Kings, resulting in federal convictions of three additional participants in the homicide. That investigation elicited new evidence in the case, which exonerated one of the co-defendants who was tried together with Pacheco. In 2002, the Brooklyn DA’s Office asked the Court to vacate that person’s conviction and a judge agreed. In 2005, the conviction of a second co-defendant was also vacated, and he then pleaded guilty to first-degree assault and was sentenced to time served after serving 10 years in prison.
The CRU conducted an investigation into Pacheco’s involvement, which included interviews with some of the witnesses in the state and federal cases. It concluded that the defendant was involved in the incident. In fact, numerous witnesses mentioned that he was one of the victim’s attackers and subsequent DNA testing revealed that the victim’s blood was on Pacheco’s shirt. However, the specific testimony used to convict him was not credible and most likely false because it has since been contradicted by other Latin Kings who participated in the attack. No other witness described Pacheco slashing the victim and the bouncer’s description of Pacheco was erroneous.
Because the error by the eyewitness was so prejudicial, the CRU could not be confident that the jury would have convicted the defendant of murder without it.
To date, the work of the Conviction Review Unit has resulted in 28 convictions being vacated. In addition, the CRU has found that of the cases reviewed thus far, 80 convictions are just and will not be recommended to be vacated. Approximately 80 cases are pending review.
This case was investigated by Senior Assistant District Attorney John Sharples, of the District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit, under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney Mark Hale, Chief of the District Attorney’s Post-Conviction Justice Bureau, and the overall supervision of Tali Farhadian Weinstein, General Counsel.