A federal judge moved closer Tuesday to freeing a Brooklyn rabbi's convicted killer after state prosecutors admitted that they had withheld evidence during his 1995 murder trial.
Federal Judge Dora Irizarry chided the Brooklyn District Attorney's office and over their objections, ordered a rare evidentiary hearing Wednesday that could free Jabbar Collins, 37, and bar prosecutors from retrying him for the rabbi's slaying.
"What is troubling is that back in 2006 the DA's office didn't take that extra step," said the judge, criticizing Brooklyn prosecutors for failing to thoroughly investigate defense claims of prosecutorial misconduct years ago.
Prosecutors did admit a crucial mistake: not revealing back in 1995 that a key witness against Collins briefly recanted. He went on to testify against Collins, who was sentenced to 34 years to life in prison for fatally shooting Rabbi Abraham Pollack during a 1995 robbery in Williamsburg.
"We have admitted error," said Monique Ferrell, a Brooklyn assistant district attorney, who claimed that her office only recently learned about this witness' temporary flipflop.
Ferrell claimed that the DA's office "spent hundreds of hours" back in 2006 investigating defense claims of prosecutorial misconduct but overlooked a retired Brooklyn detective who recently disclosed that the witness had wavered in his story.
The defense also accused Brooklyn prosecutors of intimidating other witnesses, misleading the jury and witholding a 911 tape.
"This is a course of behavior that is truly shocking to the conscience," said defense attorney Joel Rudin.
The judge appeared to side with Collins, who has steadfastly maintained his innocence, spent years studying the law while behind bars and filed freedom of information requests on his case. Half the courtroom was filled with his eight brothers and sisters, his mother, two of his three children and friends.
"Frankly there are a lot of documents that seem to back up petitioner's claims," Judge Irizarry said. She is expected to rule as soon as Wednesday on whether to let Collins out on bail while the hearing on his fate continues.
While the DA now agrees with the defense motion to void the original conviction, prosecutors said they will retry Collins for the 1995 murder and opposed his bid for bail.
"We stand by our view of the defendant's guilt," said Leonard Joblove, a Brooklyn assistant attorney.
However prosecutors admitted to recently offering Collins a deal to admit to a lesser charge of manslaughter, effectively freeing him because he has already served 15 years in prison. Collins refused the deal and wants to clear his name, said Rudin.