A Queens convict has a new chance at freedom after a long-shot jailhouse appeal prevailed in court.
The I-Team was first to report on the plight of Robert Majors, an inmate who was arrested in 1997 after police caught him holding a bag containing guns that were used the day before in a violent Jamaica armored car robbery. Two former police officers were injured in the hold-up and Majors was convicted of attempted murder.
But from his jail cell, Majors filed ten Freedom of Information requests to obtain a written statement from a police informant suggesting someone named "Rasheed" committed the crime, not Majors. That document, he said, was never turned over to his lawyers, violating the Brady rule which requires prosecutors give defendants any material that could help them prove their innocence.
"Mr. Majors was deprived of his right to a fair trial," said Tom Hoffman, his attorney.
On Monday, Queens Supreme Court Judge John Latella agreed. He overturned Majors' conviction for attempted murder.
"I find that Mr. Majors has met his burden of showing by a preponderance of the evidence that the people failed to turn over various Brady material, and I am granting his motion," Latella said.
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The Queens District Attorney's Office had argued for months that prosecutors actually did turn the 3-page informant statement over. But after four different defense lawyers made sworn statements insisting they never got it, Latella was convinced.
"It strains credulity that, had these documents been turned over to the defense, their contents would not have been brought to the attention of the Court," said Latella.
Though the attempted murder conviction was tossed, Majors remains imprisoned on the weapons possession conviction stemming from his acceptance of that bag of guns.
Majors has always insisted he accepted the bag from his brother-in-law, a co-defendant, thinking it was luggage. His brother-in-law, also convicted of attempted murder, has signed a sworn affidavit confirming Majors did not know what was in the bag.
A spokesperson for Queens DA Melinda Katz said she would decide soon whether to continue opposing Majors' bid for freedom.
"We have an automatic right to appeal the Judge's decision; we also have the option to retry Mr. Majors or to dismiss the case," the spokesperson wrote in an email to the I-Team. "We are exploring all of these options, legally, practically, and in the interest of justice. We will make a determination on our next course of action soon and proceed accordingly."
Majors' family is now pressuring Katz to support his bid for parole, which could be granted as early as next month.
"He missed a lot of his daughters' lives. Not seeing them grow up," said his sister Katrina Majors. "Let him come home to his family. He's innocent."
"He was wrongfully convicted. There is Coronavirus going on and I would hate for something to have to happen to him when he is an innocent man," said his niece, Keiana Majors. "You all made a mistake. Send the man home now."
Notably, Judge Latella did not find that Queens prosecutors committed misconduct or intentionally withheld the informant statement decades ago. In a quirk of the trial system, Majors' first conviction was thrown out after juror misconduct, and it was Latella himself who sent Majors to prison after finding him guilty in a subsequent bench trial.
Though Latella ruled Majors was denied a fair trial, he suggested he still stands by his original reasoning.
"As everyone is aware, I was the person who found him guilty at the second trial of these very serious charges, and I believe that the verdict that I rendered at that time was the appropriate verdict," Latella said. "But again, I am following what I believe to be the law and we'll see where we go from here."