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Steven Odiase

Other Bronx Exonerations
Steven Odiase (New York Daily News: Anthony DelMundo)
On June 12, 2009, 15-year-old Juan Jerez was fatally shot while playing basketball near the intersection of Minerva Place and Creston Avenue in the Bronx, New York. Witnesses reported hearing as many as seven shots.

A day later, a witness identified 17-year-old Daikwan Giles as the primary gunman. Giles was arrested and gave a videotaped statement admitting that he fired several gunshots and killed Jerez. Giles said there was another gunman, who was nicknamed “Boogz.”

On June 17, 2009, police arrested Marcus Nolasco for smoking marijuana and trespassing. Even though he had been a friend of Jerez since he was nine years old, Nolasco only now disclosed that he had seen the shooting. Nolasco had an extensive criminal record including a conviction for assault, possession of cocaine, and several misdemeanor crimes. He later admitted he came forward because he wanted lenient treatment on pending charges, including charges of harassment and menacing.

Nolasco testified before a grand jury that he was at the corner of Minerva Place and 198th Street (which was impossible since the two streets run parallel) when Giles and two others approached and Giles said he wanted to fight Jerez.

Nolasco testified that Giles got about three feet from Jerez, pulled out a revolver, and fired several shots. Nolasco said he then saw 23-year-old Steven Odiase run up, pulled out a pistol, and point it toward Jerez. Nolasco said he saw muzzle flashes from Odiase’s gun and that Jerez then fell to the ground. Nolasco said that he then fled, but as he ran, he saw Odiase and Giles pass their guns to two other youths who were on bicycles.

Nolasco admitted he was “buzzed” on marijuana at the time. Moreover, he saw Odiase for only few seconds and then only the side of his face because he was wearing a hoody.

Not long after, Nolasco pled guilty to his pending charges and was sentenced to community service. However, he did not appear for the community service and an arrest warrant was issued. Nolasco disappeared for two years before he was arrested in 2011. During that time, Giles was awaiting trial on charges of second-degree murder and criminal use of a weapon. Police finally arrested Odiase on June 13, 2011, and he also was charged with second-degree murder and criminal use of a weapon.

Giles and Odiase went to trial in Bronx County Supreme Court in May 2013. Several witnesses identified Giles and the prosecution presented his confession. Nolasco was the only witness to identify Odiase as the second gunman. Odiase’s attorney failed to call any witness who could have testified that Odiase was never known as Boogz.

On May 15, 2013, Giles and Odiase were convicted of the charges. Prior to sentencing, Odiase’s sister, Kalimah Truesdale, began scouring the neighborhood of the shooting looking for a witness to the murder. Ultimately, she spoke to a man named Washington Arana, who said that the mother of his child, Annabelle Mejia, saw the shooting. Mejia said the second gunman was not Odiase. A motion for a new trial was rejected, however, after Mejia refused to testify because she was afraid of retaliation. Giles and Odiase were sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

In April 2015, attorneys Jonathan Edelstein and Robert Grossman, who had not represented Odiase at trial, filed another motion to vacate Odiase’s convictions. The motion cited Mejia’s statement and elaborated that she said she saw seven youths come up the block, heard gunshots, and then saw a Hispanic youth whom she recognized from school. The youth was carrying a black gun.

Mejia said that she gave a detective a copy of her yearbook and pointed out the photograph of the man with the gun. She said she was never contacted again by the detective and that the prosecution did not call her either.

Mejia was shown a photograph of Odiase and she did not recognize him as being among the seven youths. The motion said that the prosecution had not disclosed this evidence to Odiase prior to his trial.

The motion also said that another witness gave a sworn statement saying that “Boogz” was a man named Jamie Maxwell who had the nickname tattooed on his arm.

In 2016, newly elected Bronx County District Attorney Darcel Clark created a conviction integrity unit, which undertook a review of the Odiase case and the still-pending motion. As part of that review, additional police reports in the case were turned over to Edelstein and Grossman.

In March 2017, Grossman discovered that one of the reports turned over was identical to a report that was in the file of Odiase’s trial defense attorney except for one major difference.

In the report that was disclosed to the defense before trial, the name of a witness and that witness’s statement had been whited out. The report that was still in the prosecution file showed that the witness was Mejia. Her statement described the second gunman as a tall, bearded man with dark skin. Odiase is short, has light brown skin, and did not have a beard at the time of the shooting.

Grossman and Edelstein told the prosecution of their discovery—that the defense had been deprived of a witness’s statement that would have excluded Odiase as the second gunman.

The prosecutor at Odiase’s trial, Adam Oustatcher, who had left the Bronx County District Attorney’s Office in 2016, told reporters that it was “normal practice” to take out information about witnesses who might face threats if they were exposed. He said he had disclosed the information that was whited out—a claim that Odiase’s trial defense attorney disputed.

On April 17, 2017, the Bronx County District Attorney’s Office filed a motion to vacate Odiase’s conviction. Clark said in a statement, “Steven Odiase is serving 25 years-to-life for murder, but the Conviction Integrity Unit has uncovered potentially exculpatory evidence that was not provided to the defense at the time of the trial. Because Odiase did not receive a fair trial, I will ask the Court…to vacate Odiase’s conviction in the interest of justice so he can be freed as soon as possible while we determine whether to retry him.” The conviction was vacated that day and Odiase was freed pending a retrial.

On October 25, 2017, the prosecution dismissed the charges.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 11/3/2017
State:New York
County:Bronx
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:2009
Convicted:2013
Exonerated:2017
Sentence:25 years to life
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:23
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No