The Defense Case
On the defense case, evidence was offered of an alibi. Specifically, Mr. Velazquez and his mother both testified that they were on the telephone with one another for seventy four minutes beginning at 11:44 AM and ending at 12:58 PM. Mr. Velazquez stated that he was speaking to his mother from home, specifically, the home of his girlfriend, Iris Cepero, with whom he lived at the time. Telephone records introduced at trial confirm that a seventy foour minute call was made from Ms. Cepero's home phone number in the Bronx to Maria Velazquez's phone number at 11:44 AM. Consequently, Mr. Velazquez could not have been present at the numbers spot at 12:00 PM, the time at which Robert Jones testified the gunman first entered to play a number.
Both Mr. Velazquez and his mother testified that the reason they remember the telephone call was that Mr. Velazquez's father had died nine months earlier and they were planning to go to the cemetery the next day, January 28, 1998, as it was his father's birthday. They testified that the reason their telephone conversation lasted seventy four minutes was because Mr. Velazquez's mother and his girlfriend, Iris Cepero, had previously had an argument and were not speaking to one another. Mr. Velazquez's conversation with his mother largely consisted of his trying to iron things out between the two women so that they could go to the cemetery together the next day.
Ms. Cepero testified consistent with Mr. Velazquez and his mother that Mr. Velazquez was home with her that day until approximately 3:30 PM when she left the apartment. However, on cross examination the People questioned Ms. Cepero regarding a statement she allegedly gave to Detectives Giorgio and LiTrenta in May 1998. Specifically, Ms. Cepero was asked if she told the detectives that she was asleep from approximately 8:00 AM the morning of January 27, 1998 until 1:30 PM. Ms. Cepero denied having made such a statement to the detectives and further testified that when the detectives came to her apartment that day they were banging on her door talking very loudly and said that if she didn't let them in they were going to say her business in the hallway. Ms. Cepero testified that she let them in, but refused to answer their questions on the advise of her lawyer.
The People called Detectives Giorgio and LiTrenta as rebuttal witnesses. Detective Giorgio was the District Attorney's investigator and affirmed that he was aware the People had received Alibi Notice and that the purpose of their visit to Ms. Cepero's apartment was to see what she was going to say at trial.
Specifically, Detective Giorgio testified:
Q: You and Detective LiTrenta went out would it be fair to say in order to see if you could interview the alibi witness?
Q: With a view towards gathering evidence that could be used by a prosecutor?
A: To gather evidence. I don't know if it was - used or not used by the prosecutor is an opinion. We were out there to ask him what it was that they were going to testify at trial.
Detective LiTrenta, on the other hand, denied having gone to Ms. Cepero's apartment to interview her as an alibi witness. LiTrenta's testimony was as follows:
A: Why did I speak to Iris?
Q: Why did you go?
A: Yes, that was several months after the incident and after reviewing the case I realized I never spoke to her, so I made a decision to maybe speak to her to see what she had to say.
Q: You made the decision, sir?
A: Yes, I did.
Q: And do you know why the District Attorney's investigator - withdraw that. Did you ask the District Attorney's invetigator to be sent with you?
A: I personally asked Detective Giorgio to accompany me. I used to work with Detective Giorgio in the 3-4 Squad before he retired and is now working in the District Attorney's office.
Detectives Giorgio and LiTrenta testified that they knocked on the door, Ms. Cepero let them in and was very cooperative, answering all their questions. They stated that she said on January 27, 1998, she was sleeping from approximately 8:00 AM until 1:30 PM and that Mr. Velazquez was home with her and their children the entire time. Although nothing in Ms. Cepero's alleged statement to the detectives rebutted Mr. Velazquez's alibi, the People characterized it as a "fundamentally different" alibi in their closing arguments.
In addition to offering evidence of an alibi, the defense introduced a photograph of Mr. Velazquez taken two weeks prior to the incident when his infant son was hospitalized shortly after birth for an infection. In the photograph. Mr. Velazquez's hair is cut very short. It would have been impossible for him to have grown hair long enough to braid, as the witnesses described, within two weeks of the date of the photograph.
Despite a complete lack of credible evidence of Mr. Velazquez's involvement in the murder of Albert Ward, based solely on eyewitness identifications after three days of deliberations, he was acquitted of first degree murder, but convicted of second degree murder, robbery and attempted robbery. On March 7, 2000, Mr. Velazquez was sentenced to an indeterminate sentence of 25 years to life on the muder and concurrent terms of imprisonment on the remaining counts. Prior to imposing sentence, the Court asked Mr. Velazquez if he had anything to say before sentencing. He made the following statement:
"First of all, I'd like to begin by expressing my deepest sympathies to the family of the deceased. There is no way to handle the loss of a loved one that easily. At this time I know first hand because I too lost someone special in my life, it was my father. He was my best friend because the only thing that - basically, the only thing that keeps me at peace is knowing that he is at peace. You see, they both are with God, and their souls are finally at peace. When you look down, keep that in mind. That's what helped me get over all these years every day."
"I can't understand why I'm here in this courtroom. I've served over two years for this crime and I'm in jail for a crime that I did not commit. As God's witness, I had absolutely nothing to do with this crime. Nothing at all. I had nothing to do with any of the victims in this case. They've made allegations against me which I feel are completely false. I've never met these people. I've never been in such a spot. I've never even heard of it. And that's basically how I feel about it."
"In my eyes, the justice system played some type of game. I mean it wasn't designed by anybody here. It's just something that we follow through with throughout the years, and I really don't take this as a game. This is my life. And for those that do look at it as some type of game, winners and losers, there will be no winners here. You see, how I see it, the lawyers are like competitors. You know. The system's been around for many years. Sometimes it's been successful, but other times it's not. Where does that leave me, and many others who have been in my position, and who are going to be in my position? There have been many innocent men covicted before me. I'm sure I won't be the last. I don't see how condemning an innocent man's life deserves justice for the loss of another innocent man's life. To me, it doesn't. And I feel it's wrong."
"Like I said earlier, there will be no winners in this court today. We are all losers. We have not found your killer yet. Instead, an innocent man will go on to serve a life sentence, while the murderer remains at large. Is that justice? I don't think so. But I do pray that God gives everyone in this courtroom blessings they need to proceed in life. One day he may bring the truth out so that all of us may be at peace."
Thank you for listening to what I have to say. I sincerely hope one day you find your man."