Retired detective Fiorello, who worked in Queens, said the district attorney, Richard A. Brown, wanted confessions.
“Confessions are what the DA wants in Queens, and if you didn’t get a confession, it was tough to bring the case in. They didn’t even want to hear it” he said. “The NYPD is pretty much honest, but this happens. It happens too often.”
Hincapie said he was coerced by law enforcement officers into giving a false confession, which ultimately led to his conviction for murder. According to Hughes, Johnny went down into the subway to retrieve his wallet from his friend, and when he went down toward the platform, he heard loud noises and screaming, then ran back up the to the street level while the mugging and murder was taking place.
Luis Montero, one of the alleged assailants was the only one of the eight teens originally charge who was not coerced into giving a confession. “I want you young people to remember these four words, I want a lawyer. If you’re ever taken into police custody, don’t say anything and ask for a lawyer” said Hughes. “Luis knew the system and didn’t say anything to them during his interrogation. If Johnny had a Lawyer with him at the time, things would’ve turned out differently for him.”
The Watkins murder changed New York because it created an example out of all the involved teens including Hincapie. There was a strong desire to convict and sentence all of the teens in the Watkins murder trials because of all the media coverage. Murder and homicide were highlighted by the press as the leading issue in New York City during that time.
“The crime rate was so high [...] there was no way they wanted me to have a fair trial in my opinion,” said Hincapie. “They definitely wanted to make an example with my case, they definitely wanted to clean up the streets of New York with my case, and they did that. And if it involved putting an innocent man in prison like myself, they didn’t care.”
Hughes article article published in City Limits Magazine in 2010 was the first that looked into this case with attention to specific details that proved Hincapie was telling the truth. Hughes reviewed confession tapes that were omitted from Hincapie’s original trial declaring that Johnny was not on the platform when Brian Watkins was killed.
“I flew to Utah and interviewed the victim's parents and I made it very clear to them the reason I was there. It was because I had met one of the codefendants who is maintaining that he is innocent 20 years after the fact” said Hughes.
Murphy explained that the original article Hughes wrote didn’t spark any mainstream media attention when first published. The story only sparked resistance from the Watkins family. Murphy handled the resistance by reviewing Hughes’ notes and trusting he did an accurate job in reporting. Murphy further explained that Mrs. Watkins deserved sympathy after watching her son die especially if people are questioning a process she was a part of. “To not only loose a son, but put someone in prison who doesn’t belong there, that is a terrible thing that required human empathy,” said Murphy.
High profile cases with lots of notoriety like Hincapie’s are classified in prison as CMC, a Central Monitoring Case. Cases with high notoriety are handled differently in prison systems according to Robert Dennison and Johnny Hincapie. Lists of all types of cases and different levels of notoriety are given to parole boards prior to them meeting the inmates. Johnny even recounts instances where he was assaulted or targeted by corrections officers because of the label placed on him by the attention his case received from the media. “It plants a seed in your head that if you make a favorable decision on this case be expected to get some blow-back in the newspapers. Even though they are not saying don’t let the person out, in a way just by mentioning it to you they let you know you better be careful,” said Dennison.
Hincapie, after being targeted in prison and incarcerated for 25 years because of a wrongful conviction, talked about his desires to give up. He tried to appeal his conviction time and time again, but Hincapie was not successful. When a New York Post article about Hincapie’s legal challenge caught the attention of Mariluz Santana she decided to “finally speak up after all these years,” said Hughes.
He explained that Santana was afraid of getting involved in the case or testifying especially when her mother told her it had nothing to do with her and that she shouldn’t say anything. However, after reading the article and seeing Hincapie was still incarcerated she decided to come forth and testify.
Hughes spent nearly 10 years investigating and working on the Hincapie case and had a list of people he wanted to speak to. With the assistance of Dennison, both men went looking for sources by "knocking on doors" said Hughes. They later got the legal assistance of Ronald Kuby, a criminal defense attorney.
"I was guilty from the time I was arrested according to the media," said Hincapie. "Literally, when I read Bill's article I cried. Everything that I was saying and everything Bill discovered was in that article. It was a new light of hope for me." Hincapie lost hope and considered suicide because he didn’t think anyone would believe him. When he was ready to give up, he leaned on his faith to keep him motivated explained Hincapie. “I literally got down on my knees in my cell and I prayed to God,” he said. After that, things took a turn for Hincapie.
Hincapie thanked everyone for their hard work and helping the truth come to light. Crying, Hincapie spoke about how being wrongfully convicted affected him and his family. “I was 18, and the look that I remember my mother had on her face when the detectives took me, away from me, I will never forget that. It keeps lingering in my mind,” said Hincapie.
Hincapie stressed the importance of people uniting to prevent what has happened to him from happening any further. “To stop false confessions, stop prosecuting innocent people, and really prosecuting individuals that do wrong, to change the law for district attorneys to be prosecuted, we definitely need to come together.”
Currently Hincapie awaits the ruling in the appeal of his overturned conviction. He is also fighting a federal deportation order. Hincapie’s next court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 5, 2016.
This article was originally published by the TimesLedger newspaper. This is the extended version to the article I wrote for their newspaper.