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Luis Batista

Other New York exonerations with official misconduct
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In the early morning hours of December 2, 1993, 29-year-old Bryan Patterson was attacked in his room at the Super 8 Motel in Troy, New York. Patterson told police that he was awakened by a man who punched him in the mouth and demanded money.

Patterson was a carpet installer and staying in the motel to complete a job there. He said he struggled in the dark with the man over his utility knife, and that his ear lobe was badly slashed and nearly severed. The man grabbed a plastic bag containing a video game console and cartridge and fled with Patterson’s wallet, a carton of cigarettes, and the utility knife.

Patterson told police he only saw the attacker when he was illuminated briefly as he opened the door to the hallway and fled. Patterson said his attacker was a Black man who had an Afro hair style.

Days later, police questioned 32-year-old Luis Batista, who was registered as the occupant of the room across the hallway from Patterson’s room. Batista said that he was with a group of people who were partying in the room. He said at one point, the door to Patterson’s room was open. He said he saw a white man lying on the bed and a Black man he knew as “House” rush past him.

Batista said that at that point, everyone left. He said, “I didn’t see anybody take anything from the guy’s room, and I didn’t take anything either.”

On December 9, police questioned Laura Pullen, who was one of the people partying with Batista that night. She said that she and Batista checked into the room to get high and have sex. During the night, others came into the room as well. Pullen said that Batista had left the room and came back holding a knife that belonged to her. She said that he confessed to slicing the man in the room across the hall.

On December 10, police arrested Batista on charges of first-degree robbery, first-degree burglary, second-degree assault and petit larceny, a misdemeanor.

Batista went to trial in Rennselaer County Supreme Court in December 1994. There was no physical or forensic evidence. The victim could not positively identify Batista as his attacker. The only person who implicated Batista was Pullen, who had a long record of convictions, including assault, drugs and prostitution. The defense contended that Pullen had falsely accused Batista and that Patterson’s description of his assailant—a Black man with Afro-style hair—did not match Batista.

Under questioning by the prosecutor, assistant district attorney Kenneth Bruno, Pullen testified that she heard a commotion outside the room. “[T]he next thing I know, I open up the door and I see Louie coming out of the room across the hall…and he had a knife in his hands and a bag,” she said. The knife was a “small hunting knife” that belonged to her, she said.

Pullen said Batista had blood on his right hand and when she asked what happened, Batista said, “I cut the [obscenity].”

Pullen added, “He said he was fighting with the guy.”

She said that everyone then left, but she remained in the room and refused to come out.

Pullen admitted that she was in prison after pleading guilty to theft of services and that she had a lengthy record of arrests and convictions, including assault. She said there was “a lot of physical violence in my household and I was in and out of jail for numerous things.” She also said she had pled guilty to prostitution, possession of stolen property, and drug possession. She attributed her behavior to an addiction to crack cocaine. She said that she was taking college classes while in prison, and that her husband was caring for her two children, ages two and three.

A police officer testified that Batista had given a statement denying the crime.

On December 14, after a two-day trial, the jury convicted Batista of all the charges. He was sentenced as a repeat offender to 25 years to life in prison. At his sentencing hearing, Batista maintained his innocence. He said the police “took to the streets to coerce the people who were at the hotel at the time of the incident until they found someone willing to give false statements against me.”

The New York Supreme Court Appellate Division Third Department upheld the convictions in January 1997.

In 2003, Pullen began writing letters to Pastor Robert Lawrenz, who had been a part of a prison ministry. Pullen said that her testimony was false. She said that the prosecutor had given her a script for her testimony before the grand jury and that she went along with it because she had been threatened that her children would be removed and put into state custody.

In November 2016, the Rensselaer County District Attorney’s Office requested the appointment of a special prosecutor to review Batista’s claim of innocence based on Pullen’s recantation. The request was granted and ultimately the Albany County District Attorney’s office began a re-investigation of the case.

In November 2017, Chief Assistant District Attorney David Rossi asked that defense counsel be appointed for Batista. In making that request, Rossi said that he had “obtained evidence which raises serious questions about the guilt of Mr. Batista.”

Rossi referred to Pullen’s letters to Pastor Lawrenz. In one letter, Pullen said she had written to Batista, but he never wrote back. “I told him how the D.A. threatened me, gave me a script,” Pullen wrote. “I said I wanted to make right what I have made wrong….He is doing a 25-life for something he didn’t do. It’s devouring me all these years.”

In March 2018, Batista’s lawyer, assistant public defender John Della Porta, moved to vacate Batista’s convictions.

On May 25, 2018, Judge Jennifer Sober granted the motion. The prosecution then dismissed the charges. Batista was released, more than 23 years after his conviction.

In January 2019, Bruce Barket and Alexander Klein of the law firm of Barket Epstein Kearon Aldea & Loturco LLP filed a claim on behalf of Batista (under the name Batista-Reyes) in the New York Court of Claims seeking more than $23 million in damages. The case was still pending in November 2020.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 12/11/2020
Last Updated: 12/11/2020
State:New York
County:Rennselaer
Most Serious Crime:Robbery
Additional Convictions:Assault, Burglary/Unlawful Entry, Misdemeanor
Reported Crime Date:1993
Convicted:1994
Exonerated:2018
Sentence:25 to life
Race/Ethnicity:Hispanic
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:32
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No