A judge tossed out the double murder conviction of a 46-year-old man serving a life sentence without parole for a pair of slayings at a Brownsville, Brooklyn, tire store in 2005 amid allegations of improper prosecutorial conduct made by the district attorney's office itself.
Wayne Martin, who was convicted in 2010, was remanded for at least two weeks as the Brooklyn district attorney's office continues to investigate the case. The judge ordered all parties back in two weeks, and left the door open for Martin to be released on bail if the district attorney doesn't dismiss the indictment entirely.
Martin's attorneys said they were disappointed their client was being held, but said they know he is innocent and believe they will be able to prove it. Martin has always maintained his innocence, telling the NBC New York I-Team in an exclusive interview earlier this week that he had nothing to do with the crime and "they just tailored something to fit me."
The vacated conviction marks a stunning twist in the case of murder, misconduct and missing evidence, which was blasted open when Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson's office sent a letter to the chief administrative judge saying the man's due process rights had been violated and key evidence that could have changed the outcome of the jury's verdict was not given to the defense ahead of the trial.
The exculpatory evidence included documents showing that two witnesses identified different suspects as the gunman.
On Thursday, the district attorney's office said it learned the evidence hadn't been handed over while preparing a response to Martin's motion in January.
"Therefore, in the interest of justice, we asked that the verdict be set aside and will continue to investigate this matter," spokesman Oren Yaniv said.
In an exclusive jailhouse interview at Shawungunk Correctional Facility in Ulster County prior to Thursday's vacated conviction, Martin told the I-Team he felt numb when he saw the district attorney's letter.
"I haven’t slept for a week,” he said.
In jail, Martin said he often felt hopeless, knowing that he had essentially received a death sentence for something he didn’t do.
The district attorney's letter unusually questioned the conduct of the trial prosecutor, Marc Fliedner, who left the office in early June in a bitter personal dispute with Thompson.
In an exclusive interview, Fliedner accused Thompson of playing "political gamesmanship with human beings’ lives."
"What's going on is that Thompson rooted around and found something he could use to try to silence who he believed to be a political adversary," said Fliedner, who has been a vocal critic of Thompson. "Frankly, given the smell about the timing of this and the smear campaign aspect of it, I'm not even comfortable saying that what is being reported to the court by the DA's office at this point in time is accurate."
The district attorney's office said there are no politics involved. Attorneys in the office began reviewing the Martin file in response to a defense motion earlier this year and found two separate versions of a homicide report — one section involving an eyewitness account was missing.
Martin’s current defense team was notified.
Fliedner said the documents should have been turned over: “If I had them, I would have. I turned over every single document I had.”
Fliedner could not explain how the documents suddenly ended up in the DA’s file during the investigation, and he said if there was a critical piece of evidence he had not turned over, he couldn't have seen it. But he said he does believe Martin has a right to a new trial.
The judge's decision marks the 21st time the Brooklyn district attorney's office has had a conviction vacated since 2014.
Before his exoneration, Derrick Hamilton had served more than 20 years in prison. He is now a paralegal working on cases like Martin’s, and believes there needs to be a special prosecutor.
"Prosecutors can’t say it was the police," Hamilton said. "The prosecutor has the responsibility of looking into the police files before they arrest somebody. It still falls on them."