By DAVE COLLINS, Associated Press
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ The Connecticut Supreme Court on Friday ordered new trials for two men in a 1993 killing, saying a judge was wrong to overturn their convictions last year.
The high court’s ruling was unanimous in the cases of George Gould and Ronald Taylor. The two have been free since April 1, 2010, after Superior Court Judge Stanley Fuger ruled in their appeals that they were victims of “manifest injustice” and declared them “actually innocent” after a key prosecution witness recanted.
The Supreme Court, however, said Fuger’s ruling was wrong because there wasn’t any evidence of the men’s innocence. Justices ordered new trials for the two men, related to their habeas corpus appeals that Fuger decided in their favor.
“The trial court improperly failed to recognize that … actual innocence requires affirmative evidence that the petitioners did not commit the crimes of which they were convicted, not simply the discrediting of evidence on which the conviction rested,” Justice Dennis G. Eveleigh wrote in the decision.
Gould and Taylor were sentenced to 80 years in prison for the shooting death of Eugenio Deleon Vega at his New Haven grocery shop. They were both freed last year after having served 16 years in prison.
It wasn’t clear Friday if prosecutors would seek to have Gould and Taylor returned to prison. Taylor’s lawyer recently told court officials that Taylor has terminal colon cancer.
Prosecutor Michael O’Hare said the state will be filing motions to address Gould and Taylor’s custody, after the Supreme Court’s ruling becomes official on July 19. He said he and other prosecutors haven’t decided yet what those motions will request.
“I think that the Supreme Court correctly decided the main issue in the case and that is, what is the standard for actual innocence?” O’Hare said.
Taylor’s lawyer, Peter Tsimibidaros, disagreed with the Supreme Court’s decision, saying there was plenty of evidence of Taylor and Gould’s innocence presented during the 16 days of their habeas corpus trial. He said he was going to discuss the ruling with Taylor on Friday and consider their legal options.
Tsimbidaros called Friday’s ruling “cruel.”
“It’s cruel because Ron Taylor is innocent, and he has Stage 4 colon cancer,” he said.
Gould’s attorney, Joseph Visone, said he would comment later Friday.
The main issue in the case was the testimony of the prosecution’s main witness, Doreen Stiles, at the original trial. Stiles testified that she saw Gould enter Deleon’s store and heard him arguing with Deleon about opening his safe, then heard a gunshot and saw Gould and Taylor leaving the store. A jury convicted Gould and Taylor in 1995.
But Stiles testified before Fuger in 2009 that she lied during the trial and wasn’t at the murder scene. She said that she was “dopesick” when police interrogated her after the killing and that a detective told her he would help her buy heroin if she told authorities what happened. Stiles said she identified Taylor, now in his early 50s, and Gould, in his late 40s, in photos as the men in Deleon’s shop and afterward two detectives gave her $60 and drove her to a street where she bought heroin.
Police denied Stiles’ allegations.
Visone had argued that the state’s theory that Gould and Taylor killed Deleon in a robbery made no sense. He said Deleon was found with $1,800 stuffed in his pockets and there was $100 in the cash register, money that should have been taken if the motive was robbery. Both Visone and Tsimbidaros claimed Deleon’s son was the killer, an allegation O’Hare has called “vague speculation.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)