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Emmanuel Mervilus

Other Robbery Exonerations with False or Misleading Forensic Evidence
On the night of October 19, 2006, 26-year-old Miguel Abreu flagged down two police officers and reported that he had been robbed and stabbed by three men outside of the New Jersey Transit station in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

Abreu said that one robber took his backpack and fled on a bicycle. He told the officers he had followed the other two assailants on foot and pointed to 22-year-old Emmanuel Mervilus and 19-year-old Daniel Desire. Police arrested Mervilus and Desire, and Abreu identified them on the street, saying that Mervilus had held him while Desire stabbed him once in the chest.

Several days later, Abreu went to the police station where detectives showed him photographs of Desire and Mervilus that had been taken at the station. Abreu again identified them as his attackers. The third man was never identified or located.

On May 27, 2007, Mervilus, who was represented by an attorney, took a polygraph examination and signed a waiver agreeing that no matter the results, the prosecution would be allowed to present testimony about the examination at trial.

Mervilus went to trial in Union County Superior Court in February 2008. Abreu was unable to identify Mervilus. When asked to pick out his attacker, Abreu identified a man sitting in the gallery.

The prosecution then called police officers who testified that Abreu had identified Mervilus on the street and from a photograph shown to him at the police station. The officers admitted that they had failed to follow eyewitness identification guidelines established in 2001 by the New Jersey Attorney General. They did not incude fillers in a photographic lineup or document the lineup procedures.

Elizabeth police Lt. John Kaminskas testified about the polygraph examination, and told the jury a polygraph was able to discern who was lying and who was telling the truth. Kaminskas then testified that Mervilus had denied involvement in the crime and that in his opinion, Mervilus “wasn’t telling the truth.”

Kaminskas also testified that in his extensive experience as a polygrapher, in “between 60 and 70 percent of the . . . tests I conduct[,] I find the . . . people are truthful.” He said that in those cases, he reported the results to the investigating detectives, and “a lot of times the case is terminated or charges against the person are dropped.”

On cross-examination, Kaminskas said the polygraph was “a truth indicator.” He told the jury he had never encountered a situation in which he had opined that “someone was . . . showing signs of deception, and [it later] came out that they were truthful.”

He also said that a “guilty” suspect was “a little more anxious” because “they know that the truth is going to be found out.”

The prosecution also presented evidence that a knife was found near where Abreu said he was attacked, although it was not linked to the crime because tests failed to reveal any blood or fingerprints on it.

Mervilus testified and denied he was involved in the crime. He said he was standing in line to buy an apple juice when he heard Abreu shouting. Mervilus said he was upset when he took the polygraph because his mother had recently died of cancer, and because he was in jail, he was not allowed to be with her before she died or attend her funeral. He said that he offered to take the examination again, but that request was declined.

During its closing argument, the prosecution cited the testimony of Kaminskas that Mervilus had lied during the polygraph examination.

On February 14, 2008, the jury convicted Mervilus of first-degree robbery and aggravated assault. At his sentencing hearing, Mervilus said, “I feel sorry for what happened to him, but how can I be remorseful for a crime I didn’t commit.” The judge then sentenced him to 11 years in prison.

In July 2008, Desire went to trial. During that trial, Gary Augustine testified for the defense that he was present at the time of the attack and that in fact, the attack came from Abreu and another man. Augustine testified that he intervened to protect Desire from the attack.

Augustine also told the jury that Mervilus was not present or involved in the attack. On July 24, 2008, the jury convicted Desire of a lesser charge of theft and acquitted him of the more serious charges of robbery and assault. Desire was sentenced to four years in prison.

In February 2011, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court vacated Mervilus’s conviction and ordered a new trial. The appeals court ruled that Kaminskas’s testimony was improper.

The court referred to a prior ruling in another case where a conviction was reversed because Kaminskas had testified that polygraph examinations were 100 percent accurate.

His testimony against Mervilus “implicated the very concerns” expressed in that prior ruling—“that jurors would perceive polygraph evidence as infallible and would give it disproportionate weight in deciding to convict or acquit a defendant. Adding to the mix the serious questions about the reliability of polygraph evidence, its misuse is all the more troubling.”

On June 14, 2011, Mervilus was released on bond pending a retrial. He rejected a prosecution offer to plead guilty in exchange for time already served.

Mervilus went to trial a second time in January 2013. On January 18, 2013, the jury deliberated for 40 minutes before acquitting him of the charges.

Mervilus subsequently settled a state compensation claim for $97,500. He also filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking damages from Union County officials and police, including Kaminskas. The lawsuit was dismissed, but reinstated by an appeals court in 2023. Mervilus settled the lawsuit in November 2023 for $3.2 million.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 5/3/2018
Last Updated: 11/21/2023
State:New Jersey
Most Serious Crime:Robbery
Additional Convictions:Assault
Reported Crime Date:2006
Sentence:11 years
Age at the date of reported crime:22
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No