On February 15, 1941, while escorting David Dolinsky, manager of a Coney Island theater, to the bank to deposit the day’s earnings, New York City police officer Leon Fox was shot and killed during a robbery. At the time, witnesses said several men had approached in an automobile, stolen the manager’s briefcase, and shot Fox before driving off.
After a year and a half of unsuccessful investigation, prosecutors turned to Nathan Spielfogel, a convict serving time for an unrelated crime. In exchange for promises of money, alcohol and women – all of which he received while in prison – Spielfogel provided false testimony against Morris Malinski, implicating Malinski in Fox’s murder.
Based on Spielfogel’s false testimony, police arrested Malinski and brought him to a Brooklyn hotel. There, they forced him to strip naked and remain unclothed for four hours as police beat him repeatedly and demanded a confession. Later that night, Malinski confessed under these coercive circumstances. Based on Malinski’s confession, police arrested two other men, Sidney Rudish and Joseph Indovino, in conjunction with Malinski for the murder of Fox.
On June 24, 1943, using Spielfogel’s testimony and Malinski’s coerced confession, prosecutors convicted Malinski of Fox’s murder and sentenced him to death by electric chair. Rudish and Indovino were also convicted. Rudish received the death penalty, and lndovino was sentenced to life without parole.
Appealing Malinski’s conviction based on the prosecutor’s use of his illegitimate confession, defense attorneys brought the case to the New York State Court of Appeals, during which the lead prosecutor laid surprisingly bare the state’s attitude towards Malinski’s allegations of abuse: it was “quite proper police procedure.” The prosecutor said that the interrogation was “some more psychology – let him sit around with a blanket on him, humiliate him there for a while; let him sit in the corner, let him think he is going to get a shellacking.”
Despite the prosecutor’s statements, the Court of Appeals declined to suppress Malinski’s confession. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Malinski’s appeal, and after reviewing the nature of Malinski’s confession, the Court threw out his confession on March 26, 1945 and sent the case back down for retrial.
During the retrial, Spielfogel, the primary witness, broke down and admitted that he had colluded with prosecutors to frame Malinski for Fox’s murder. Spielfogel then attempted suicide twice during the trial proceedings. With the confession gone and Spielfogel discredited, the prosecutors were unable to make their case against Malinski. Thus, three years and five days after being sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit, Morris Malinski was acquitted of all charges on June 29, 1946. The convictions of Indovino and Rudish were reversed as well and the indictments against them were dismissed.
– Researched by Mac LeBuhn
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.