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Pedro Serrano

Other New York Federal Exonerations
Seal of the Southern District of New York
On October 29, 2015, the police were called to a domestic dispute at an apartment on East 110th Street in New York City. The police found Pedro Serrano, 37, holding his girlfriend down with both arms. He claimed that she was trying to destroy his property.

Serrano told the police the apartment had been his parents' since 1979. He took it over in 2014, after they died. He asked the police to remove his girlfriend. A few hours after she was escorted away, the girlfriend told the police that Serrano had pulled a gun out of the closet.

On November 2, 2015, the police returned to the apartment with a search warrant. During the search, they found a box containing various types of ammunition in Serrano’s bedroom closet, body armor in a hallway closet, and drug paraphernalia in the bedroom. No gun was found. Two latent fingerprints were recovered from a firearm cleaning kit found inside the ammunition box.

Serrano said that he did not know about the ammunition box or its contents. He claimed that the box most likely belonged to his estranged brother, Andy Serrano, who had convictions for gun possession. The defense obtained a recording of a call made from the jail by Andy Serrano, during which he said he stored some of his possessions in the closet.

On February 1, 2016, Pedro Serrano, who had prior robbery convictions, was arrested on a federal charge of being a felon in possession of ammunition and body armor. The body armor charge was later dropped.

In June 2016, Serrano, who was free on bond, went to trial in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. At trial, Elliot Perez, a New York Police Department detective, testified that the prints were of “no value” for comparison, meaning they could have been left by anyone, including Serrano. By this time, Serrano’s girlfriend had recanted her claim that he had pulled a gun out of the closet, and her statement was not mentioned at trial.

Forensic scientist David Stoney, who had been hired by the defense prior to trial, agreed that one of the latent prints was of no value, but disagreed on the second. He told the defense that he found that the second print was “of value for exclusion only,” in that the print could be used to exclude someone but not to identify someone. Some crime laboratories use the concept of “value for exclusion only;” others do not. The New York police department's latent print section does use the concept "of value for exclusion only." However, Stoney could not exclude Serrano because the images of Serrano’s prints that Stoney had been provided for comparison were not clear and complete enough to make an exclusion. As a result, Stoney did not testify at the trial.

A jury convicted Serrano on June 22, 2016.

While awaiting sentencing, Serrano’s lawyers asked the trial judge to vacate the conviction because the jury was not properly instructed. On December 15, 2016, Judge William H. Pauley III granted the motion and ordered a new trial. The judge conceded that he had failed to instruct the jury that they could not convict Serrano if they found he actually believed that there was no ammunition in the closet.

Before the second trial, Serrano’s attorneys, federal defenders Amy Gallicchio, Annalisa Mirón, and Edward S. Zas, got better images of Serrano’s prints. When Serrano went to trial a second time in August 2017, Stoney testified that Serrano was excluded as the source of the second latent print. The government did not contest this claim or call Detective Perez at the second trial.

On August 11, 2017, the jury acquitted Serrano.

– Simon Cole

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Posting Date: 12/6/2017
State:Fed-NY
County:Southern
Most Serious Crime:Weapon Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2015
Convicted:2016
Exonerated:2017
Sentence:Not sentenced
Race:Hispanic
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:37
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No