Miguel Arroyo, a 42-year-old Hispanic man, was arrested for killing a black teenager, 15-year-old Edward S. Davis, Jr., during a street fight outside his grocery store in the Bedford-Stuyvesant District of Brooklyn on September 19, 1964. Arroyo was indicted in December for manslaughter and assault charges, and convicted by a jury on May 12, 1965. The only evidence against him consisted of eyewitnesses called by the prosecution.
Arroyo’s defense attorney, Michael Wollin, moved to have the verdict set aside based on a series of eyewitnesses that didn’t testify at trial who claimed that it was 25-year-old Jose Velasquez, not Miguel Arroyo, who had committed the murder. The trial judge, State Supreme Court Justice Harry Gittleson, granted an application for a new trial.
According to Elliot Golden, chief assistant district attorney, the prosecution started having doubts about its own witnesses, even though the jury had accepted their stories. Arroyo was soon released pending the new investigation. “We reopened our investigation and the yield was cumulative in nature,” Golden said. As a result of the newly discovered eyewitnesses, and the threat of possible administration of lie detector tests, several prosecution witnesses had recanted their trial testimony, now contending that Arroyo was innocent.
In July 1966, Jose Velasquez was taken into custody on a charge of possessing narcotics. Minutes after this charge was dismissed in Manhattan Criminal Court, detectives from the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office arrested him for Davis’s murder. On July 25, Assistant District Attorney T. David Selzer presented motions for the arraignment of Velasquez on the murder and the dismissal of the indictment against Arroyo. Justice Gittleson, who immediately set aside the verdict, said, “I have a very vivid recollection. I was persuaded that there was a sharp doubt whether this man was properly convicted and I sent word to Mr. Koota (district attorney Aaron E. Koota) asking that a further investigation be made.” The judge recalled being skeptical of “a couple of the prosecution’s witnesses who were absolutely incredible.” On the other hand, Justice Gittleson continued, “I couldn’t escape the conclusion that three young women, testifying for Mr. Arroyo, were telling the truth.”
- Dolores Kennedy
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.