On March 30, 1972, nightclub owner Conrad Greaves was shot and killed in Queens, New York, after gunmen ambushed him in the parking of the El Capitan Hotel. His club, Conrad’s Cloud Room, was inside the hotel. Greaves had testified before a Queens grand jury in February about members of the Genovese crime family extorting money from him. His testimony played a key role in the indictment of Pasquale “Paddy Mac” Macciarole and others. At the time of Greaves’s murder, Macciarole was out on bail, and police launched a multistate manhunt to find him.
By late April 1972, Macciarole had not been located, but police arrested four other men in connection with the murder. Three of the men – Thomas DeLio and brothers Ralph and Daniel Jacobson – were known associates of the Genovese criminal organization. All had lengthy criminal records. Thomas DeLio’s brother, Anthony, had been indicted alongside Macciarole based on Greaves’s grand jury testimony. Following Greaves’s murder, the extortion cases against Macciarole and Anthony DeLio were dropped. The fourth man arrested for the murder, 39-year-old Robert Grimaldi, worked at Conrad’s Cloud Room and was bartending the night of the shooting.
Grimaldi said he was innocent. He said he had never met the Jacobson brothers or Thomas DeLio and was not involved in his boss’s death. But he was indicted for the murder under the theory that he had brought Greaves into the parking lot and alerted the shooters to Greaves’s arrival.
Grimaldi’s trial began in late September 1972 in the New York State Supreme Court in Queens. The case was tried before Justice Peter T. Farrell and an all-male jury. F. Lee Bailey represented Grimaldi. Anthony Lombardino prosecuted the case.
The state alleged that Grimaldi lured Greaves to the parking lot and then set off Greaves’s car alarm as a signal to the shooters. The state’s theory relied on testimony from Theresa Bell, who worked in the hotel’s coffee shop. Bell testified that she had been in the parking lot at the time of the shooting and had witnessed Greaves’s murder. She testified Grimaldi had told her to wait for him in the hotel lobby, but instead followed him from a distance. She testified that she then witnessed Grimaldi setoff the alarm on Greaves’s car and duck down out of the way as the gunmen appeared and shot Greaves. According to Bell’s testimony, Grimaldi saw her in the parking lot after the shooting and threatened her, saying that she needed to forget what she had witnessed.
Bell also testified that Grimaldi told her that she had to tell police they had been together in the lobby when the shooting took place and that she would be providing his alibi. Bell admitted that when she had testified before the grand jury, she testified that she was in the lobby with Grimaldi during the shooting and had not seen it take place. At Grimaldi’s trial, Bell testified that she had lied to the grand jury out of fear, claiming she had received threats following the shooting and had been afraid to tell the truth.
Grimaldi testified that he was in the lobby of El Capitan at the time of the shooting and was not involved in the crime in any way.
On October 4, 1972, the jury found Grimaldi guilty of murder. At his sentencing in March 1973, Grimaldi said, “I’m not guilty judge; I think this verdict will be upset.” Farrell sentenced him to 15 years to life in prison.
Daniel and Ralph Jacobson were acquitted at their joint trial on November 21, 1972. In January 1973, the murder charges against Thomas DeLio were dropped after DeLio provided what Farrell said was an iron-clad alibi.
On April 29, 1974, the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court unanimously reversed Grimaldi’s conviction based on insufficient evidence. The appellate court also found significant problems with Bell’s testimony and the way it was used by prosecutors.
Bell’s testimony in Grimaldi’s trial included her statement that she had entered the convent for a while after graduating high school. The prosecution then emphasized Bell’s time in the convent, creating the impression that she was a reliable witness despite the contradictions between her grand jury and trial testimony. The prosecution referenced Bell as a “convent girl” at least 29 times at Grimaldi’s trial. However, at the trial of the Jacobson brothers, Bell testified that she had never actually joined the convent. She testified that she had applied and taken steps to join, but she did not follow through and did not even know the convent’s location. The appellate court dismissed the indictment against Grimaldi, and he was released from prison.
In 1985, Grimaldi filed a claim against the state under the state’s Unjust Conviction and Imprisonment Act of 1984. On July 25, 1989, the New York Court of Claims awarded Grimaldi $81,000 in compensation.
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.