In February 1994, Rabbi Abraham Pollack was shot and killed in a robbery as he collected rent in a building in Brooklyn, New York. Jabbar Collins lived in a nearby housing project and was on probation for a Youthful Offender adjudication for an attempted robbery. At trial, a witness, Adrian Diaz, said he saw Collins put a gun in his waistband as he fled the scene of the crime. A second witness, Angel Santos, said he saw Collins run past him as he called 911. A third man, Edwin Oliva, told police that Collins had told him before the murder that he was planning to rob the Rabbi. The district attorney denied that any of the witnesses had been offered anything for their testimony. In March 1995, a jury convicted Collins of second-degree murder and he was sentenced to 34-years-to-life.
After his conviction, Collins trained himself in legal proceedings, and filed record requests and appeals on his own behalf. Eventually, he uncovered a systematic pattern of police and prosecutorial misconduct. In 2003, posing as a district attorney’s investigator, who was trying to reconstruct lost information about the case, he called Diaz from prison. Diaz told him that before Collins’s trial he had violated his parole by going to Puerto Rico and could have been sent back to prison, but that the district attorney promised to make sure that would not happen if he testified against Collins.
In 2005, Collins contacted Oliva, who admitted that he only signed a statement implicating Collins in the murder after he himself was arrested for an unrelated robbery several weeks after the murder and threatened by detectives, and that when he balked, his work-release status was revoked until he agreed to testify. Collins also found out that Oliva was allowed to plead to a lesser charge in the robbery case in exchange for his testimony against Collins.
In addition, Collins obtained the 911 tape for the incident, and discovered that Santos had not made any of the calls. Santos later testified that at the time of the murder, he was using drugs "every day. Twenty-four hours." He said that as the murder trial neared a year later, he told the prosecutor he did not want to testify, but that the prosecutor threatened him with prosecution, then locked him up for a week as a material witness. When he agreed to testify, he said, he was taken from jail to a Holiday Inn and the prosecutor later claimed Santos was in protective custody.
After failing to obtain relief in state court, Collins filed a petition for habeas corpus in federal court, and asked for an order prohibiting retrial because of the extensive governmental misconduct. After a one-day evidentiary hearing, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office decided not to oppose that outcome, ostensibly because the prosecution witnesses were too compromised to retry the case; the office continued to maintain that Collins was guilty.
In June 2010, a United States District Court vacated Collins’s murder conviction and dismissed the charges against him with prejudice. Collins, who went to work as a paralegal, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in 2011 seeking compensation for his wrongful conviction.
In July 2014, Collins settled with the State of New York for $3 million. In August 2014, Collins settled with the City of New York for $10 million.
- Stephanie Denzel