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On the evening of October 12, 1974, two armed men robbed the Jiminez grocery store in Brooklyn, New York. The store’s owner, Julio Jimenez, and his 12-year-old helper, Louis Camacho, were behind the counter, and several customers were also present. The gunmen shot Jimenez and Camacho and then fled. Jimenez collapsed on the sidewalk, and died from a gunshot wound in his neck. A bullet hit Camacho above his left eye, but he was not fatally wounded.
The next morning, an attempted break-in was reported at a building around the corner from the store. Police lifted a fingerprint from the windowsill at the site.
The following week, Brooklyn police apprehended Victor Cartagena in an unrelated robbery. Seeking to avoid arrest, Cartagena told the arresting officer that he had been a witness to the Jiminez homicide and could identify the perpetrators. Cartagena was unsuccessful in bargaining his way out of the arrest, and he was in jail until early 1975, when he was released on bail.
Cartagena was arrested again in Manhattan in April 1975, charged with possession of a gun. He was convicted and sentenced to eighteen months to three years in prison. While he was serving his sentence on that conviction, a warrant was issued in Brooklyn for his failure to appear on the robbery indictment. Brooklyn detective Frederick Nelson visited Cartagena in jail and spoke with him about his earlier claim that he witnessed the Jiminez shootings.
Based on Cartagena’s statements to Nelson, a meeting was arranged between Cartagena and a prosecutor in the Kings County District Attorney’s Office on June 2, 1975. In exchange for Cartagena’s cooperation in the Jiminez case, the district attorney agreed to allow Cartagena to plead guilty to a lower class of felony and to recommend he receive a sentence of eighteen months to three years on the robbery indictment, to run concurrently with the sentence of the same term that he was already serving for his gun-possession conviction. The robbery conviction carried a potential sentence of up to 25 years. Cartagena agreed and provided the names of Rafael Cruz and Willie Rosario as the gunmen in the Jiminez robbery-homicide.
The police arrested Cruz on July 4, 1975, and they said that after his indictment, Cruz made an inculpatory statement that implicated Rosario. Cruz testified at a pretrial hearing and denied that any such statement was made. Nelson said that Cruz was the source of the fingerprint taken from the nearby attempted break-in. The joint jury trial of Cruz and Rosario for the Jiminez robbery-homicide began on May 6, 1976 in Kings County Supreme Court. Cartagena was the only witness who identified Cruz and Rosario. He testified that he was with his girlfriend, Eva Lopez, and Lopez’s friend Maria, on the evening of the crime. He testified that although he primarily lived in Manhattan, at the time of the crime he was also sharing an apartment in Brooklyn located at 139 South First Street with Lopez. He testified that the Jiminez store was four or five blocks away. According to his testimony, on the evening of the crime, he had gone to a television store for a replacement part, accompanied by Lopez and Maria. The television store was a block from the Jiminez store. He testified that when they finished at the television store, they walked around “looking at stores” for 20 to 25 minutes, during which time they observed a man known to Cartagena as “Jimmo” drive by in a yellow Pontiac. Cartagena testified that Cruz and Rosario, both of whom he already knew personally, were in the backseat of the Pontiac. According to Cartagena, Rosario and Cruz got out of the car, walked past Cartagena without exchanging any words, and went into the Jiminez store.
Cartagena testified that he left the women standing in front of a nearby store and walked to the Jiminez store window, where he witnessed the shooting take place. He testified to the details of the shooting and that he also witnessed the aftermath, including helping to put Camacho into an ambulance. Though there were many police at the scene, he testified that he did not talk to them or identify himself as a witness. He testified that shortly after the crime, he talked with Cruz and Rosario about the shooting, though he was inconsistent about when and where this conversation occurred.
Rosario and Cruz were convicted of second-degree murder and two counts of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon. They were each sentenced to concurrent terms of 20 years to life on the murder conviction and two terms of zero to 15 years on the possession convictions.
On June 25, 1979, the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, Second Department, reversed their convictions. Rosario’s conviction was reversed on the grounds that the purported confessional statement by Cruz implicating Rosario had been admitted into evidence and was improperly left unredacted with regard to Rosario. The basis for the reversal of Cruz’s conviction was that his supposed confessional statement was made in violation of his right to counsel. The court suppressed the statement and remanded both cases for new trials.
Cruz’s retrial began in April 1980. By this time Cartagena had died, so the state relied upon his testimony from the original trial. The defense called Irma Coreano, a relative of both Cartagena and Cruz, as a witness for the purpose of impeaching Cartagena’s testimony. Coreano was in her second year at Brooklyn Law School. She testified that Cartagena was her cousin, and she had known him for 28 years. Cartagena’s mother lived next door to Coreano. Cruz was married to Coreano’s sister, and Coreano also knew him well. Coreano testified that she met Eva Lopez in November 1974, a month after the Jiminez crimes. Lopez worked as a bartender at a bar owned by Coreano’s brother-in-law. Coreano testified that two weeks after she and Lopez met, Lopez came to live with her at her apartment at 139 South First Street in Brooklyn. Coreano had been living in this same apartment for over 20 years. During the time when Coreano met Lopez and Lopez subsequently moved in with her, Cartegena was incarcerated for the robbery charges in Brooklyn. When Cartagena was released on bail in January or February 1975, he stopped by Coreano’s apartment to visit her, at which time Coreano introduced him to Lopez. According to Coreano’s testimony, Cartagena and Lopez had not met until at least three months after the Jiminez murder. Cruz was acquitted on all the charges.
Rosario’s trial began on June 8, 1981. The only evidence implicating Rosario was Cartagena’s prior testimony, which was offered into evidence as it had been in Cruz’s trial. The defense was unable to locate Coreano for purposes of testifying at Rosario’s trial to impeach Cartagena’s prior testimony. In an effort to locate Coreano before the trial, the defense had sent an investigator to her last known residence and employer, canvassed her neighborhood for people who knew her, visited her law school, and left messages for her with neighbors and close family. Upon finally locating her, they served Coreano with a subpoena prior to trial and attempted to have New York City Police Department serve her with a judge’s subpoena, but the police were unable to locate her. When these efforts to locate Coreano failed, the defense requested that Coreano’s testimony from Cruz’s trial also be admitted. The judge refused to admit Coreano’s testimony on the basis that a diligent effort had not been made by the defense to locate Coreano.
Officer Nelson testified that none of the other witnesses could identify Rosario. No fingerprints or other identifying evidence at the scene linked Rosario to the crime. Nelson testified that another officer had tracked down Lopez and she could not recall whether or not she was with Cartagena on the day of the crime. Nelson’s testimony acknowledged a variety of discrepancies in Cartagena’s story.
Rosario was convicted of murder and possession of a weapon, and on July 23, 1981, he was sentenced to concurrent terms of 20 years to life in prison for the murder conviction and zero to 15 years for the weapon possession conviction.
Rosario appealed his conviction on the basis that the court’s refusal to admit Coreano’s prior testimony had deprived him of his constitutional rights to a fair trial and to present a defense. The New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, Second Department affirmed the conviction on December 5, 1983, and the New York Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal the following year.
Rosario then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court. On April 21, 1987, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted the writ and held that the exclusion of Coreano’s testimony had denied Rosario of his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. This decision was affirmed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on February 12, 1988. The charges against Rosario were then dismissed.
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.