On March 15, 1958, Ahmad Kassim (also referenced as Ahmed Kassim), an immigrant from Yemen, was involved in a roadside altercation with Ali Hirabi Hussain in Lackawanna, New York, at approximately 9:30 p.m. Witnesses were present, as Kassim and Hussain each had passengers in their cars when they stopped at the roadside. During the fight, Hussain brandished a knife, cutting Kassim’s left temple. At no time did any of the witnesses see a knife in Kassim’s hand, and Kassim was always facing his adversary’s front side. During the fight, however, Hussain was struck in the back with a knife, and died from the wound.
When the Lackawanna police arrived, they took Kassim into custody and extracted a confession from him without the aid of an interpreter. At the time, Kassim had no reading ability in English and very little comprehension of spoken English. The District Attorney, however, arranged for a stenographer to record Kassim’s confession, which came out in very high-level English, with proper sentence and paragraph structure, and many details, such as the addresses and full names of each car’s passengers. Throughout trial, Kassim maintained his innocence and stated that the real assailant was Mohammed Nagi. On October 9, 1958, Kassim was convicted of first-degree manslaughter for Hussain’s death.
Shortly after Kassim’s conviction, Ahmed Jamil and Ahmed Abdul Kawey were each deposed, and each one stated that Mohamed Nagi had told them that he, not Kassim, had stabbed Hussain. Nonetheless, Kassim was sentenced to five to ten years in Attica State Prison on November 7, 1958. When Kassim entered the prison, various IQ and reading tests were conducted on him, and he was shown to have no reading ability in English, and an IQ of 74. While Kassim was incarcerated, he learned English, earned his high school equivalency, and began working on his own appeal.
On January 7, 1959, Kassim was assigned an attorney, John Tubridy, for his appeal. In December of that same year, Lackawanna police arrested Ahmad Mubaraz for illegally possessing a firearm. During his interview with the police, Mubaraz explained that he carried the gun to protect himself against Nagi, who had admitted to Mubaraz that he, not Kassim, had killed Hussain in 1958. On April 27, 1960, however, the New York Supreme Court’s Appellate Division unanimously upheld Kassim’s conviction, and his motion for a new trial on the basis of newly discovered evidence was also rejected.
From 1960 through 1963, Kassim filed several motions seeking to overturn his conviction. Finally, in December 1963, Kassim was appointed John B. Walsh as his counsel for another appeal. In the spring of 1965, Ahmid Jamil was interviewed, and reconfirmed that he gave a sworn statement indicating that Nagi had confessed to Jamil that he was the real assailant. Walsh then obtained a “Huntley Hearing” for Kassim, where the voluntariness of his confession was examined in detail. On November 8, 1965, Honorable Jacob A. Latona found that the confession was not voluntary and vacated the conviction, ordering a new trial without use of the confession. In January 1966, Erie County’s district attorney moved to dismiss the charges against Kassim. After serving approximately seven years, Kassim was released.
After Kassim’s release, the New York legislature twice enacted legislation enabling Kassim to sue the state for damages related to his incarceration. In 1967 and 1969, Governor Rockefeller vetoed the bills. It is unclear how or why, but in 1983, New York State Senator Masiello introduced S-2390, which would confer jurisdiction on the New York Court of Claims so that Kassim could sue the state for monetary relief as a result of his wrongful conviction. Govemor Cuomo vetoed that bill, but enacted a nearly identical version on December 21, 1984 (S-7186). On November 7, 1986, Kassim was awarded $501,653 as compensation for his wrongful conviction.
- Researched by Alison Norris
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.