From [InnocenceProject] Today, Innocent Project client Eric Kelley and Centurion client Ralph Lee walked out of a New Jersey prison, experiencing freedom for the first time in more than 20 years. Back in September, a New Jersey Court vacated their convictions for a 1993 felony murder and robbery based on DNA evidence identifying another suspect. After the court set a bail that the two men could make, the prosecution appealed their release. Today the New Jersey Supreme Court rejected the prosecution’s arguments, paving the way for the men to post the bail. The prosecution also appealed the court’s order vacating their convictions, but now they will be free while the appeal proceeds through the courts.
In 1996, Kelley and Lee were sentenced to life in prison for the 1993 murder of Tito Merino in Paterson, New Jersey. But DNA testing of a hat found at the crime scene excluded both Kelly and Lee and matched to another man—Eric Dixon—who matched to the age and physical description of the person a witness observed in the store around the time of the murder. Just three months prior to the crime, Dixon had been released from prison after serving three years for a similar knifepoint robbery of a nearby store.
Nevertheless prosecutors in Passaic County refused to even question that felon, who is still on the loose. Despite compelling scientific evidence local prosecutors were unconvinved of Kelley’s and Lee’s innocence.
The Christie administration and his Attorney General, Chris Porrino did nothing and failed to step in despite the new exculpatory evidence.
TIf not for a judge's order, prosecutors wouldn't even have sought the rap sheet of the convict who matched the DNA hit. In legal filings, they argued this felon, Eric Dixon, did not commit the murder, without even having spoken to him - undermining any future prosecution.
They also didn't bother to notify the victim's family. And a detective on the original case, still on the job, refused to even say whether he would have investigated Dixon at the time if he knew his DNA matched; what a judge called "the best example of tunnel vision."
That judge found this new evidence powerful enough to toss out the convictions, after listening to both sides for a year. [MORE] and [MORE]