On February 20, 2006, at 11:35 p.m., in front of 2185 Davidson Avenue in the Bronx, Francisco Baez, a taxi driver, was robbed at gunpoint by two men as he walked down the street on his way home after having parked his cab for the night.
Baez told police that the robbers took his wallet, containing more than $300 and his identification cards. Baez told police the gunman was a black man wearing a black hoody and black pants and a light-skinned Hispanic man with a ponytail and wearing either a red jacket or white jacket with patches.
The following day, Baez met with a detective assigned to the case and provided slightly more detailed descriptions. He described the gunman as a black man, 18 to 19 years old, 5’8” tall and weighing 150 pounds. The second robber was a Hispanic man, 16 to 18 years old, 5’6” tall, weighing 200 pounds, with “Chinese-looking eyes” and wearing blue jeans and a white jacket with patches.
Baez viewed photo books at the precinct that day, but after 15 to 20 minutes gave up and made no identification. A detective then put the description into the police information management system, which generated mug shots of possible matches.
After viewing just 12 photos, Baez identified 19-year-old Jose Rodriguez as one of the perpetrators.
Upon resetting the computer with the other description, Baez then identified Vynell Simmons as the perpetrator who displayed the gun.
A week later, police arrested Rodriguez, who, at 5’6” tall and 180 pounds, was shorter and heavier than the description of the gunman Baez gave: 5 feet, 8 inches tall and 150 pounds. The following day, police arrested Simmons.
Baez identified both Rodriguez and Simmons as the perpetrators in separate lineups. Rodriguez was indicted by a grand jury after Baez testified that he was one of the perpetrators. The prosecutors did not pursue an indictment against Simmons because Baez informed them, just prior to entering the grand jury hearing Simmons’ case, that his identification of Simmons was wrong. Simmons’ case was then dismissed.
The prosecutors did not tell Rodriguez’s attorney that Baez had recanted his identification of Simmons nor did they explain why the case against Simmons was dismissed.
On November 10, 2007, Rodriguez was convicted solely on the basis of Baez’s testimony that he was the gunman. Rodriguez was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Rodriguez’s appellate lawyers reinvestigated the matter, determined that Simmons and Rodriguez did not know each other, and that Simmons might have had an alibi for the date in the question. His appellate lawyers then made a post-conviction request for exculpatory evidence from the Bronx County District Attorney’s office seeking the reasons why the charges against Simmons were dismissed.
In the letter they argued that any questions about the accuracy of Baez’s identification of Simmons as the perpetrator would be exculpatory for Rodriguez since his conviction rested entirely on Baez’s uncorroborated identification. In response, the prosecution agreed that the conviction be vacated. The charges were later dismissed on March 25, 2011.
– Maurice Possley