A black man who served 20 years in prison for murder was freed on Monday after it was revealed by the Bronx District Attorney’s Office that witness testimony describing a Hispanic suspect was withheld from his defense during his trial.
Attorney Michael Talassazan called Larry McKee’s case a prime example of why discovery rules in criminal cases should continue to be enforced.
“First of all, I’m ecstatic and just happy that my client was able to walk free and try to enjoy the rest of his life,” Talassazan said during a phone interview Monday night. “The evidence was there and the [former] DA failed under their (sic) obligation to turn that evidence over.”
McKee, 46, was sentenced in 1997 to 24 years-to-life in prison after he was convicted in the Feb. 19, 1996, shooting death of 29-year-old Theodore Vance, according to the District Attorney Darcel Clark’s office. Before Monday’s court decision, his first opportunity to be released on parole was not until March 2019, state Department of Correction documents show.
New evidence brought forward by Talassazan, however, prompted Clark to request the Conviction Integrity Unit review his case about six months ago.
Led by Assistant District Attorney Risa Gerson, the case review unearthed grand jury testimony of a witness who heard Vance’s last words, which included a description of his alleged attacker as “a Spanish guy,” per Clark’s office. It was also determined the testimony had not been given to McKee’s defense at the time.
The result of the investigation — which included re-interviewing witnesses and examining thousands of pages of trial documents — led Clark to urge Administrative Judge of the Supreme Court Robert E. Torres on Monday to vacate the conviction “in the interest of justice.”
“After 21 years in custody, it’s overwhelming,” Talassazan said of McKee’s release.
Gerson and the Bronx district attorney’s office also earned praise from Talassazan for reconsidering the case.
“Much credit to the unit and especially ADA Gerson, who had the guts to disclose the grand jury testimony which was the last piece of the puzzle to ensure the conviction was overturned,” he said. “I couldn’t have done it without her help.”