In late November 2007, New York City police created a wanted poster featuring a photograph taken from a surveillance camera during one of four store robberies in Manhattan. Police believed the same person had committed all of the robberies.
On December 9, a security guard at a men’s homeless shelter was shown the poster and believed it depicted 47-year-old Martin Nnodimele, who had been living at the shelter on and off since August of that year.
Police were summoned and arrested Nnodimele. After witnesses identified him in a series of live lineups and photographic lineups, Nnodimele was charged with three robberies on November 14, 20 and 26.
Nnodimele went on trial in New York County Supreme Court on August 11, 2008. Witnesses from the three stores identified Nnodimele as the man who entered the stores, intimated he had a gun in his pocket, and left after money was handed over from the till. More than $1,700 was taken in the three robberies. Video surveillance footage of the three robberies was shown to the jury as well.
Nnodimele presented witnesses who testified that he had been working as a day laborer on the days of the robberies, although he was not under constant supervision at all times.
During closing argument, the prosecution told the jury that the robber was wearing the same clothing during all of the robberies and that it was the same as the clothing Nnodimele was wearing when he was arrested. The prosecution said that Nnodimele’s alibi witnesses were lying.
On August 18, 2008, Nnodimele was convicted of two of the robberies and acquitted of the third. At his sentencing hearing, Nnodimele insisted he was innocent and that the video surveillance footage showed a man who had different facial features and was also much shorter. Nnodimele was then sentenced to 10 years in prison.
After the sentencing, the Center for Appellate Litigation in New York City was assigned to handle the appeal of the conviction. Attorney Jonathan Kirschbaum began re-investigating the case and discovered that Nnodimele’s trial attorney had failed to locate a store employee who had been shown a photographic lineup and was adamant that Nnodimele was not the robber.
Experts were retained to examine the video surveillance footage. Their analysis showed that the robber in all three cases was about 5 feet, 6 inches tall. Nnodimele, according to police booking records, was between 5 feet, 10 inches and 5 feet, 11 inches tall.
Moreover, the analysis showed that the robber wore different clothing in the robberies, none of it matching the clothing Nnodimele was wearing when arrested.
An examination of the surveillance video also showed that the robber looked different from Nnodimele—one store was robbed by a bow-legged man with a pot belly, while Nnodimele has neither a pot belly nor bow-legs.
Kirschbaum, joined by CAL attorney David Klem, filed a post-conviction motion for a new trial based on the new evidence, asserting that Nnodimele’s trial attorney had provided an inadequate legal defense and that Nnodimele was factually innocent.
On September 12, 2011, following an evidentiary hearing, the convictions for the two robberies were vacated. On October 24, 2011, Nnodimele was released on bond. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office dismissed the charges on June 14, 2012.
Nnodimele filed a claim for compensation in the New York Court of Claims that was settled in July 2014 for $450,000.
– Maurice Possley