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Marcia Minaya Diaz

Other Federal Drug Exonerations
Marcia Minaya Diaz and her attorneys, David Patton (left) and Chase Scolnick (right).
On November 28, 2014, 50-year-old Marcia Minaya Diaz arrived at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on a flight from Santiago, Dominican Republic.

She was selected for a search of her luggage by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. She was arrested after inspectors said they found an empty cooler bag in her suitcase with 846.7 grams of cocaine wrapped in plastic and sewn into the lining.

Minaya Diaz, a resident of Danbury, Connecticut, said she was unaware the cocaine was hidden in the cooler bag. She said that her husband, who lives in the Dominican Republic, was given the bag containing cheese, rum and other food items by a friend of his who asked that Minaya Diaz take it to the man’s friends in New York City.

Prior to trial, David Patton and Chase Scolnick, attorneys in the Federal Defender’s Office in New York City, and federal prosecutors took a video-taped deposition of Minaya Diaz’s husband, Benito Parra-Vasquez, because he was not allowed to enter the U.S.

In the deposition, Parra-Vasquez said that his wife came to visit him and on the night before her return to the U.S., they threw a party.  A friend of his brought the cooler bag and asked if Minaya Diaz would deliver it to friends in New York City. Parra-Vasquez said the bag contained rum, cheese and other food items.

The video was not played for the jury after U.S. District Court Judge Jack Weinstein granted the prosecution’s request to bar presentation of it because Parra-Vasquez said he did not actually see Minaya Diaz put the cooler bag into her suitcase.

Minaya Diaz went to trial before a jury in March 2015. The prosecution contended that because customs inspectors said the bag was empty and the food items were lying loose in the suitcase, Minaya Diaz must have handled the cooler bag when it was empty. Under the prosecution’s theory, Minaya Diaz would have surely known the bag contained drugs in the lining because it was too heavy to be empty.

Customs agents testified that during their questioning of Minaya Diaz at the airport, she denied any knowledge of the cocaine and said that when she packed the cooler bag in her suitcase, the rum and other items were still inside the cooler bag.

On March 12, 2015, the jury convicted Minaya Diaz of possession of cocaine and she faced a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

However, in June 2015, Judge Weinstein granted a defense motion for a new trial, ruling that he should have allowed Parra-Vasquez’s deposition to be played for the jury.

Minaya Diaz went to trial a second time on August 21, 2015. At this trial, the defense not only played Parra-Vasquez’s deposition, but the videotaped depositions of two friends of the family who live in the Dominican Republic and said it was a common practice for people to ask U.S. residents returning to the U.S. to bring gifts of rum, cheese, candy and other items for friends.

On September 2, 2015, the jury deliberated for two hours and then acquitted Minaya Diaz.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 10/1/2015
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2014
Sentence:Not sentenced
Age at the date of reported crime:50
Contributing Factors:
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No