DNA Evidence Shows that 2 Black Men Have Been Wrongfully Incarcerated for 24 Years in NJ for Murder

From [HERE] and [HERE] Attorneys for the Innocence Project and Centurion Ministries are urging a New Jersey court to reverse the murder convictions of Eric Kelley and Ralph Lee [in photo] based on DNA evidence that has identified another suspect who had recently been released from prison for committing a similar crime. NJ.com has published a special feature about the case detailing evidence that was presented at a hearing earlier this year.

Kelley, represented by the Innocence Project, and Lee, represented by Centurion Ministries, were convicted of the 1993 murder of Tito Merino based largely on contradictory statements they made to police after the police ask them to go to the Paterson detective bureau. At the station house, the two were interrogated separately for several hours. Kelley, who suffers from intellectual disabilities because of a brain injury from a car accident and has difficulties processing information, was interrogated first and allegedly admitted to the crime. 

Detectives admit that they fed the information supplied by Kelley when interrogating Lee. The interrogations were not recorded and there are no notes of what occurred. The only evidence of the confessions are typewritten statements officers prepared that were signed by Kelley and Lee. Kelley allegedly told police where the knife used in the murder was hidden and where stolen property was fenced. However, the knife and property were never recovered.

Prior to their arrests, police were searching for one suspect in the murder of Merino, who was stabbed to death during the robbery of the Paterson video store where he worked. A green and purple plaid baseball hat that no one from the store could identify was recovered near the victim’s body. Police submitted it for DNA testing believing it could help identify the killer, but DNA testing wasn’t as advanced then and the testing was inconclusive.

Attorneys for Kelley and Lee got permission to retest the hat in October 2010. Male DNA was identified, excluding Kelley and Lee. The profile was entered into the FBI’s DNA database of convicted felons and matched to 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.