Confined to a life sentence at Sing Sing Prison for murder, Jonadrian Velazquez has already lost all of his legal appeals. But this week, he learned there might be another chance to get his story heard.
The Conviction Integrity Unit, a special division of the Manhattan District Attorney's office, has agreed to meet with Velazquez's attorneys. The meeting comes nearly 14 years after a deadly shooting in Harlem that Velazquez insists he did not commit.
"I could understand your reluctance to believe that individuals in prison are actually innocent," Velazquez told NBC's Dateline. "I'm not saying everybody is, but I am."
Defense attorney Robert Gottlieb said Velazquez was convicted after four eyewitnesses identified the Bronx native as one of the gunmen at an illegal gambling night on January 27, 1998. The murder victim, retired NYPD officer Albert Ward, had been a participant in the card game and was shot and killed in a botched robbery.
But Gottlieb said two of those witnesses have now recanted their testimony.
"We are confident Mr. Velazquez will be exonerated," he said.
Gottlieb learned of the case from NBC Dateline producer Dan Slepian, who had investigated Velazquez's case for nine years.
"There was an authenticity about him that made me want to probe a little further," said Slepian, whose prior investigations helped lead to the overturned convictions in the Palladium nightclub murder.
District Attorney Cyrus Vance wouldn't discuss the specifics of this case. But in general terms, he explained the purpose of the Conviction Integrity Unit.
"My goal is simple: to make sure the guilty are held accountable, and to minimize the possibility that an innocent person is charged or convicted,” wrote Vance.
Since its formation in March of 2010, the Conviction Integrity Unit has reviewed more than 100 cases. So far, more than a dozen have been re-investigated, with convictions or indictments dismissed in two of them.