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Orlando Carrera

Other Bronx County, New York exonerations
In the summer of 2013, Luis Rodas began renting a room in the four-bedroom apartment of 32-year-old Orlando Carrera on Wallace Street in the Bronx, New York. Carrera lived there with his wife and their three-year-old daughter. Carrera also rented a room to 43-year-old Felix Ojeda Flores, who had lived there for 10 years, and another man known as Rojo.

On December 28, 2013, Rodas told police that on Christmas Eve, after spending most of the day drinking beer and singing karaoke with Carrera and Ojeda Flores, they attacked him. He said they threw bottles and other kitchen items at him, forced him to the floor and took turns raping him. Police went to the apartment that day and arrested Carrera.

The following day, Ojeda Flores learned police were looking for him and went to the station where he was arrested. Both men voluntarily gave statements to the prosecution asserting their innocence. The statements were not presented at trial. In the statements, Carrera said that in November 2013, Rodas had pulled a knife on him and so Carrera told him he had to move out. On the day of the incident, Ojeda Flores said Rodas got drunk and picked a fight with him.

On January 6, 2014, a Bronx County grand jury indicted Ojeda Flores and Carrera on charges of first-degree criminal sexual act, third-degree assault, and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon.

In July 2015, Carrera and Ojeda Flores went to trial in Bronx County Supreme Court. Rodas testified that he was unemployed, but supported himself with worker’s compensation from an injury in 2012. Carrera and Ojeda Flores were working full-time. Ojeda Flores worked six days a week taking care of horses in Central Park. Carrera worked in a restaurant.

Rodas testified that on December 24, 2013, he and Carrera went to a bank where Rodas withdrew money for rent and to buy beer. He said he gave the rent to Carrera and later, joined by Ojeda Flores, the three of them began drinking and singing karaoke.

Rodas said that Ojeda Flores mentioned a prior argument that Rodas had had with Rojo over the apartment cleaning schedule. Ojeda Flores said that Rojo had calmed down, but that if it had been him, he would have hit Rodas. At that, Ojeda Flores got up as if to strike Rodas. Rodas said he told him, “[C]alm down. I don’t want to fight.” Rodas said that Ojeda Flores replied that if Rodas didn’t want to fight, Rodas “should give him [his] ass.”

Rodas said he moved toward the hallway to “get out of the situation,” but Carrera struck him in the back of the legs with a stick, causing him to fail. He said that Ojeda Flores smashed his head into the floor and both men anally raped him.

He said he went into the bathroom, and when he emerged to try to leave the apartment, Ojeda Flores blocked his path while Carrera threw bottles and other kitchen items at him. He said he went to his room and tried, unsuccessfully, to call 911. Eventually, he said, he was able to leave.

Rodas testified that the attack left him ashamed and afraid. He reported the assault to police on December 28, 2013. He said that he showed his bruises to the police officer, Santiago Inoa, and that photos were taken. Rodas said he had “black and blue bruises” on his leg, hip, arm, forehead, and behind his ears. He said his “whole body had marks on it.”

He said that on December 31, 2013, he began experiencing severe head pain. He was taken by ambulance to Montefiore Medical Center. He told staff that he had a pain in his head, had problems with his anus, had been raped, and contemplated suicide. He said that in August 2014, he had been hospitalized for suicidal thoughts as the result of “anger that [he] had been raped.”

Rodas acknowledged that he had been convicted of driving while impaired in 2004 and driving while intoxicated in 2007. He admitted that he had struck a light post and filed a false report, claiming that the car had been stolen because he was scared to tell the police the truth. Ultimately the truth emerged, and Rodas had been charged with filing a false report. The case had been resolved in 2003 when he pled guilty to disorderly conduct.

During cross-examination, Rodas denied making a series of statements that were contained in the medical records of his hospital visit. He denied telling medical personnel that he ran screaming from the apartment building after the assault. He denied that Carrera had ordered him to leave the apartment and denied saying that he was having roommate problems. He also denied saying that he had threatened Carrera with a knife and denied saying that Carrera told him that he drank too much, was too aggressive, and needed to calm down.

During further cross-examination, Rodas claimed that he was unable to call 911 because his phone was locked. He also said that after the alleged attack, he had left the apartment to buy water and then voluntarily returned.

Police officer Santiago Inoa testified that Rodas came to the station and claimed he had been raped. Inoa said he did not recall any photos being taken of Rodas and no photographs were in the police file.

Dr. Danielle Weinman, an emergency medicine physician testified that she examined Rodas when he came to the hospital on December 31, 2013. She testified that she had no recollection of the case, but confirmed that according to the medical records, Rodas complained of a “headache, feeling dizzy, emotional, and suicidal ideations.” The report of the examination showed no tears or abrasions of Rodas’s rectum. He had not complained of any rectal pain. Some minor bruises were noted on his arms and legs.

Dr. Weinman prescribed Rodas prophylactic STD and HIV medication. Asked by the prosecution why she did so if there was no evidence of tearing of tissue, Dr. Weinman said, “Because not all rape victims exhibit tears on their anus, and he said he was raped, and I believed him.”

Dr. Weinman also testified that she had seen hundreds of anuses and approximately 10 had “significant” anal tears.

The prosecutor asked, “What if anything did the results of the complainant’s anal region that [showed a] lack of tearing? What does that indicate to you?”

The defense objected, but not before Dr. Weinman replied, “It indicates nothing to me.”

At the close of the prosecution’s case, the defense asked for a verdict of acquittal because Rodas’s testimony was “so unbelievable.” The motion was denied.

The defense called an investigator who had visited the apartment and said it had two exit doors and that the window in the bathroom was large enough that an adult could exit.

During closing argument, the defense said the case rose and fell on Rodas’s testimony and that he could not be believed because he was “a troubled and disturbed person” with a drinking problem. The defense lawyers contended that Rodas concocted a lie because Carrera wanted him to move out following a dispute over rent.

The prosecution admitted during closing argument that Rodas’s account was “very strange,” “unusual,” and “almost illogical.” The prosecution argued that Rodas was credible and the level of detail bolstered his credibility. The prosecution said Rodas had no motive to lie and “[e]ven defense concedes there’s no motive—can’t find a motive.” The prosecution argued that it made “no sense” for Rodas to have “fabricated” the case over a rent dispute and asked the jury, “If he made this up about a rent dispute, then what benefit does [Rodas] get?”

The jury deliberated for two days. The jury asked to review Rodas’s direct testimony, the cross-examination by Ojeda Flores’s attorney, the testimony of Officer Inoa, the photographs of the apartment taken by the defense investigator, and Rodas’s medical records. The jury asked the judge to re-read the jury instructions. Finally, on July 30, 2015, the jury convicted Ojeda Flores and Carrera of all three charges. Each man maintained his innocence at sentencing. The judge rejected the prosecution request for 25 year sentences. Instead, Carrera and Ojeda Flores were each sentenced to eight years in prison.

On direct appeal, David Crow, an attorney at the Legal Aid Society in New York (LAS), was assigned to represent Ojeda Flores. Brittany Francis of the Center for Appellate Litigation (CAL) represented Carrera. Convinced that both men were innocent, the two attorneys conducted a joint re-investigation. In 2019, Julia Burke at the Office of the Appellate Defender (OAD) took over representation of Ojeda Flores.

In January 2019, a public records request was filed asking for records of any assistance to Rodas. Based on the prosecution’s disclosure, OAD and CAL filed a joint motion in May 2020 to vacate the two men’s convictions, claiming that the prosecution had failed to disclose “a panoply” of benefits to Rodas, including housing and financial benefits, free medical care, and several months of counseling.

While preparing its response, the prosecution found more records of benefits to Rodas, which were turned over in October 2020. These records showed that the prosecution provided assistance to Rodas in obtaining a U visa, a visa granted to crime victims. The prosecution later conceded that Rodas had been told that this assistance was contingent on his cooperation in the case against Ojeda Flores and Carrera, and the prosecution had certified Rodas’s “helpfulness” after they were sentenced.

Despite the evidence of numerous benefits having been supplied to Rodas, but not disclosed to the defense, the Bronx District Attorney opposed a new trial for either man. In March 2021, Bronx County Supreme Court Justice John Carter denied the motion for a new trial, ruling that the nondisclosure did not adversely affect the defendants’ trial.

The Appellate Division granted leave to appeal Justice Carter’s decision and consolidated the appeals with the direct appeals of their convictions. Ojeda Flores was represented by Karena Rahall and Sean Nuttall from OAD and Sela Brown from the law firm of Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton, and Carrera was represented by Alexandra Mitter from CAL. While the appeals were pending, both men were released: Ojeda Flores on July 7, 2021, and Carrera on December 27, 2021.

On May 23, 2023, the Appellate Division, First Judicial Department, ordered the men’s convictions vacated and the charges dismissed. The appeals court concluded that the prosecution had committed a violation of Brady v. Maryland, a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring prosecutors to disclose evidence favorable to the defense. “[W]e find that the [prosecution] violated Brady because the suppressed U visa evidence would have raised enough reasonable doubt to affect the outcome of the trial,” the court said.

“Here, the prejudicial impact cannot be understated [sic], especially where the jury already had before it evidence tending to undermine [Rodas’s] credibility,” the court said. “That prejudice was further exacerbated by the prosecutor’s repeated statements on summation that [Rodas] had ‘no motive’ to lie and that [Rodas] ‘received no benefits from making up these allegations’ while suppressing the very evidence that could provide such a motive.”

The court not only vacated the convictions, but ordered, “in the interest of justice,” that the indictments be dismissed.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 8/25/2023
Last Updated: 8/25/2023
State:New York
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Additional Convictions:Assault, Weapon Possession or Sale
Reported Crime Date:2013
Sentence:8 years
Age at the date of reported crime:32
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No