On April 10, 1985, 70-year-old Rudolph Marasco was shot to death while leaving a bingo hall in Queens, New York.
Two days later, a witness, 19-year-old James Schweigert identified Angelo Martinez, 19, in a photo lineup.
On May 3, 1985, Schweigert identified Martinez in a live lineup and Martinez was charged with murder. At the same time, a friend of Martinez, John Padilla, was also taken into custody. Police said he told them that Martinez had admitted shooting an old man.
Martinez went on trial September 4, 1986. Schweigert identified Martinez as the gunman, although he did not disclose that a friend of his had previously accused Martinez of assault. Padilla testified that he implicated Martinez after police threatened to charge him with the murder.
Martinez was convicted on September 10, 1986 and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
In March 1989, Charles Rivera, a cooperating witness in a federal investigation disclosed that he had committed the murder.
Authorities didn’t believe him and their disbelief seemed to be confirmed when Rivera failed a polygraph exam.
However, in his statement, Rivera provided a missing element—motive. He said that Marasco lived in a building owned by Frank Sgro, father of his half-sister. Sgro wanted to sell the building, but Marasco wouldn’t move out, so – according to Rivera – Sgro hired Rivera for $10,000 to kill Marasco.
The building was sold four months after Marasco was murdered.
Though federal authorities didn’t believe Rivera, they passed the information to the Queens County District Attorney’s Office. The information was then passed on to Martinez’s attorney, Jenny Maiolo, but she did nothing.
In 2001 James Quinn, then deputy chief of homicide in the Queens County District Attorney’s Office, checked and discovered that Maiolo had not acted on the information. He re-assigned the case to a prosecutor and two detectives for a re-investigation. Maiolo was later disbarred for actions in an unrelated case.
During an interview, Rivera told them that he had killed Marasco and disclosed that he had used copper-jacketed bullets—a detail that had never been publicly disclosed. He also said he was chased by two people after the shooting—a fact that was confirmed in police reports.
Ultimately the investigators found a man that Rivera said was his driver that night, and that man confirmed that he drove Rivera to the bingo hall where the shooting occurred.
On June 12, 2002, a joint motion by defense attorneys for Martinez and the prosecution was presented in court. The murder conviction was overturned and the charges were dismissed.
On July 22, 2002, Martinez was released on bail, pending disposition of a federal conviction for selling cocaine in prison after he was locked up for the murder conviction. That sentence, 292 months, was later commuted to time served, in part because the lengthy term was the result of an enhancement based on his murder conviction.
Martinez later filed a $50 million lawsuit in the New York Court of Claims. The suit was settled for a substantial but undisclosed amount.
– Maurice Possley