In February 1988, Rahman Ferati was shot and killed on a street in Brooklyn, New York, by a passenger in a nearby vehicle.
A couple walking nearby witnessed the shooting. Both witnesses identified Sami Leka as the shooter from photo arrays at a police station, and testified against him at trial.
It wasn’t until three days prior to trial that the prosecution told the defense that an off-duty police officer had witnessed the shooting – and the prosecution obtained a court order preventing the defense from contacting the officer, who would have cast doubt on the testimony of the two prosecution witnesses.
At trial, the defense presented the testimony of Zeni Cira, an extended family member of Leka’s who was in a child custody dispute with Ferati. Cira confessed that he shot Ferati in self-defense. Nonetheless, in March 1990, Leka was convicted by a jury of second-degree murder and criminal possession of a weapon, and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Following Leka’s conviction, the two eyewitnesses told his appellate attorneys that the police had pressured them into identifying Leka by telling them the police were sure he was the man and that he already had a criminal record.
In 2001, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Leka’s conviction based on the prosecution’s failure to disclose exculpatory evidence to the defense. In January 2002, the prosecutor’s office announced that it would not retry Leka.
In 2008, Leka settled a wrongful conviction lawsuit against the City of New York for $3.1 million.
- Stephanie Denzel