In March 1997, John Buono was shot while in a Bronx pizzeria. Buono was with a friend, Robert Prieto, during the shooting. An employee and another customer were also in the pizzeria at the time.
Police believed the shooting to be drug related because both Buono and Prieto were involved with drugs. The witnesses were shown a photo lineup of individuals suspected of dealing drugs in the area.
The customer identified Michael Clancy as the shooter, even though Clancy was taller and heavier than the man initially described by witnesses. The employee did not identify Clancy at first, but picked him out of the photo array when she viewed it a second time. Both witnesses then identified Clancy in a live lineup, as well as at trial.
Police questioned Prieto a few weeks later, and he told them he could not identify the shooter. Clancy said he was in the neighborhood, and had been with Prieto earlier, but was nowhere near the shooting.
In November 1999, a jury convicted Clancy of second-degree murder and criminal possession of a weapon, and he was sentenced to 25-years-to-life.
While Clancy was awaiting trial, Prieto was arrested on federal drug charges. He agreed to discuss his criminal history during plea negotiations in preparation for testifying for the prosecution, and revealed that he knew Clancy had not shot Buono. The real killer was Andrew DeJesus, a rival drug dealer.
Though federal prosecutors notified the Bronx District Attorney’s Office before Clancy’s trial that Prieto had identified DeJesus as the shooter, prosecutors did not pursue the lead beyond an initial interview with DeJesus.
Notes from Prieto’s interviews with federal prosecutors were provided to the defense, but many parts were illegible. Clancy’s attorney attempted to contact Prieto to persuade him to testify on Clancy’s behalf. On the advice of his attorney, however, Prieto refused to talk to Clancy’s attorney or testify at Clancy’s trial because the prosecutors in the case believed Prieto was lying, and being treated as a hostile, not credible witness at Clancy’s trial might jeopardize his credibility in the federal case, and thus his plea bargain.
Prieto did not come forward until after his federal case concluded in 2002. Clancy filed a motion to vacate his conviction with the New York Supreme Court in 2006, based on Prieto’s statements.
Prieto testified in Clancy’s post-conviction hearing in 2007 that DeJesus was the shooter, and, based on his testimony, Clancy’s conviction was vacated and he was released on bail pending retrial. In February 2009, prosecutors dropped the charges against him.
In September 2012, the state of New York agreed to pay Clancy $2 million to settle a federal wrongful conviction lawsuit.
- Stephanie Denzel