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Michael Ryan

Other New Jersey Exonerations
Michael Ryan and his wife, Nadine.
On Sept. 11, 2015, Michael Musser was coming out of a laundromat in Hammonton, New Jersey, when he saw a man masturbating in a car in the parking lot. Musser was a police officer in Eastampton, in an adjacent county, but was off-duty.

He said the man he saw was white and in his 40s, and was wearing a ballcap and sunglasses. Musser said the man appeared intoxicated and slurred his words. He also said that after confronting the man, he identified himself as an officer and told him not to leave. He then ran inside the laundromat and told someone to call 911 (Musser said he was on his way to the gym and was not carrying his cellphone.). But the man drove off. Musser said the car was a black Honda and he was able to get a partial license plate, E68. He did not report the incident at that time to Hammonton police.

Musser said that approximately two weeks later, on September 26, 2015, Musser and his daughter were at a nearby supermarket when he saw the car and driver again. This time, he had his cellphone, and he took a picture of the plate, E68-EML. He went to the Hammonton Police Department and ran the tag. It came back registered to Michael Ryan, a 50-year-old guidance supervisor at Hammonton High School. The officers then printed out a photo of Ryan, and Musser said he was positive that was the man at the laundromat. Ryan was charged with committing a lewd act and with fleeing the scene.

During this time, the patrons of a bar and liquor store a few blocks away had often seen a gray Honda parked nearby, and on one occasion saw a man masturbating inside the car. The bartender copied down the tag number, which he recorded as E68-ELM, and then gave it to the Hammonton police. That car was registered to a Hammonton man roughly the same age as Ryan. However, because the car color seemed off, investigators decided the bartender must have transposed the letters, and Ryan was separately charged with committing another lewd act outside the liquor store.

Ryan’s bench trial in Absecon Municipal Court took place on October 28, 2016. Musser was the state’s main witness. He insisted that Ryan was the man he saw at the laundromat, and that he had enough time to get a good look. He couldn’t explain why he didn’t immediately report the incident, why he didn’t more aggressively pursue a driver he thought was intoxicated, or why there was no record of a phone call from the laundromat. A patron of the bar also testified that Ryan was the man he had seen masturbating, but under cross-examination it became clear that he had been uncertain about an identification until seeing Ryan in the defendant’s chair. Ryan did not testify, but five character witnesses spoke on his behalf.

Judge John Rosenberger ruled on November 14, 2016 that Ryan was guilty of one count of lewd behavior but acquitted him of fleeing and of the lewd act near the liquor store. Ryan was fined $664 and placed on probation for a year. He had been suspended from his job at the high school since his arrest, and he was fired after his conviction.

Ryan’s initial appeals were rejected. Then, in November 2017, he learned that Musser had been facing disciplinary action in the months before the trial for falsifying his time card and being untruthful to internal affairs about his actions. The Eastampton police chief recommended termination, and Musser was fired October 23, 2017.

At trial, neither the prosecution nor the defense had known about Musser’s employment issues, and Musser was never questioned about his work record. But in his ruling, Rosenberger had relied heavily on Musser’s testimony, stating: “I’m satisfied that the identity as provided by off-duty officer Musser is accurate and one which was to be believed.”

Ryan’s attorney, Louis Barbone, filed a motion for a new trial, alleging that this was a Brady violation that went to Musser’s credibility as a witness. Even if prosecutors didn’t know about the disciplinary issues at trial, he argued, it was known during the appeals process and should have been disclosed.

The Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey remanded the case back to the trial court, and the motion to vacate was granted by Judge Bernard DeLury of Superior Court of Atlantic County on March 19, 2018. In his ruling, he said that there had been no Brady violation, but that a new trial was warranted based upon newly discovered evidence.

Although a retrial was initially scheduled, the remaining charge against Ryan was dismissed by prosecutors on November 30, 2018. Ryan told the Press of Atlantic City, “Life as I knew it does not exist anymore. But I’m looking forward to a day when I can look back and say we have healed, recovered and it is behind us now.”

Ryan has also filed a lawsuit against Eastampton Township and Musser for civil damages.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 4/17/2019
State:New Jersey
County:Atlantic
Most Serious Crime:Other
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2015
Convicted:2016
Exonerated:2018
Sentence:Probation
Race:White
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:50
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No