On February 13, 1986, an undercover New York City Transit Authority police officer arrested 45-year-old Frederic Slack on the E train in Manhattan. Officer Edward Lacey said he arrested Slack after witnessing him cut open the pocket of a sleeping train passenger and remove an envelope. Slack, who was described as a drifter, denied that the incident had occurred.
The passenger, George McDermott, did not appear at Slack’s trial in December 1986. The jury accepted Lacey’s testimony as the sole witness to the crime and convicted Slack of larceny. Slack was sentenced to two to four years in prison and released on probation in January 1988.
On March 14, 1988, Slack filed a motion for a new trial on the basis of previously undisclosed information about Lacey’s arrest practices. Slack was now represented by the Legal Aid Society, which had obtained a 1984 internal affairs report about arrest practices of the Transit Authority police. The report said that Lacey and three other officers had been making false arrests in an attempt to increase their likelihood of being promoted.
The report also found that Lacey and the other officers had lied about the false arrests. By this time, Lacey had retired. Slack’s motion argued that the prosecutor’s failure to inform Slack about this investigation was a Brady violation because the investigation report was highly relevant to Lacey’s credibility. According to the motion for a new trial, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office had known about the allegations against Lacey since the fall of 1983.
On March 28, 1988, Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morganthau agreed that Slack was entitled to a new trial. Acting New York Supreme Court Justice Alfred Kleiman overturned Slack’s conviction on April 11, 1988. Unable to locate McDermott, whose existence had never been confirmed independently of Lacey’s report, Justice Kleiman then dismissed all charges against Slack at the request of the district attorney.
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.