On Monday, after deliberating for less than half an hour, a Bronx jury vindicated Edward Garry’s twenty-three-year quest to clear his name, finding him not guilty of the 1995 murder of a retired police detective named Oswald Potter. In 2016, I wrote about Garry’s case for The New Yorker. Garry was twenty years old when he was charged with Potter’s murder. Next week, Garry will turn forty-three. He spent his twenties and all of his thirties in prison, and was only let out on bail last year after a judge ordered a new trial for him. One of Garry’s lawyers, Glenn Garber, told me that, when the jury foreman read the new verdict, one of the jurors was crying, and afterward “one of them ran up to him in the hallway and said, ‘I’m sorry this happened to you,’ and hugged him.”
“It still feels like a dream,” Garry said, when I talked to him Monday night. “It didn’t register yet.”Get the best of The New Yorker every day, in your in-box.Sign me up
The Bronx district attorney’s office chose to retry Garry despite serious flaws in its case and the fact that the campaign to clear his name had come to include one of the cops who originally helped arrest him. When Darcel D. Clark, the Bronx D.A., took office, in 2016, she started a conviction-integrity unit to review questionable cases. The unit had examined Garry’s case and had not come to a public conclusion, but prosecutors still decided not to back down. (A spokeswoman for Clark said this week that the D.A.’s office does not comment on acquittals.)
Potter’s murder took place at Irene’s New Hope Grocery, a store on Laconia Avenue that doubled as an illegal gambling parlor. Witnesses told police that two men, one Hispanic and one black, had burst in to Irene’s, demanding cash. After a scuffle, the Hispanic man killed Potter. A phalanx of cops, led in part by a rookie detective named Peter Forcelli, worked on the case. Forcelli and other officers brought in the witnesses to look at mug shots. Two picked out a photo of Garry, a neighborhood drug dealer who was in the mug-shot book because of a prior conviction for attempted robbery. Forcelli told me that back then, when the city’s murder rate was up, he considered two civilian witnesses “golden.” Thanks in part to Forcelli’s work, Garry was convicted of Potter’s murder and sentenced to twenty-five years to life.
But Garry always maintained his innocence, and he made five formal attempts to undo his conviction. Last spring, a Bronx Supreme Court judge found that the district attorney’s office had violated Garry’s due-process rights during his original trial by not handing over evidence about another possible suspect. The judge, Michael A. Gross, ordered a new trial for Garry.
By that point, there was ample evidence that Garry had not committed the murder. In the original trial, both of the witnesses who had fingered Garry’s mug shot had equivocated over their identifications, and there was no other evidence tying Garry to the crime. In the mid-aughts, after a defendant in a separate case—a man named Lawrence Broussard—confessed to being involved in the Potter holdup, federal prosecutors in Manhattan began an investigation into Garry’s case. Eventually, the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office found three men—Broussard and two getaway drivers—who admitted to participating in the crime with a fourth assailant, who shot Potter. All three men said that the fourth man was not Edward Garry.
Garry’s lawyers—Garber and Rebecca Freedman, of the Exoneration Initiative, a Manhattan-based nonprofit—eventually found N.Y.P.D. documents showing that Steven Martinez, a man who looked similar to Garry, and who was committing crimes in the Bronx at the time of the murder, and who told a street informant in the summer of 1995 that “I just shot some guy on Laconia Avenue,” had been considered as a suspect. (Martinez told me in 2016 that he was innocent.)
Forcelli left the N.Y.P.D. in 2001 to take a job with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, where he now runs the Miami field office. In the intervening years, he became something of a specialist in unravelling wrongful convictions. Until he revisited Garry’s case, he’d wondered how it felt to be a cop or an investigator who got the wrong guy. Then, in 2014, Forcelli was called to testify in the Bronx Supreme Court during one of Garry’s challenges of his conviction. Garber, the lawyer, handed Forcelli a photo array that included Martinez, and Forcelli realized that Martinez and Garry, sitting in front of him at the defendant’s table, were look-alikes. At that moment, he said, he realized he’d arrested the wrong man.
Forcelli testified on Garry’s behalf at hearings in 2015 and 2016, trying to explain what went wrong in the investigation and trying to help Garry clear his name. As the hearings dragged on, Forcelli became increasingly furious with a system that seemed unable to correct a mistake. Last week, Forcelli returned to court once more, this time as a witness for Garry’s defense. He hadn’t been sure he’d be able to make it to New York, as he was recently treated for lung cancer. After he finished testifying, he spoke to Garry.
“At the end, he shook my hand, and thanked me for being honest,” Forcelli told me. “I said, ‘Edward, do me a favor, and, if you get out and get your freedom back, do me a favor. Just make sure you do good things with your life.’ He said he would. I hope he does.” Forcelli said he’s relieved that Garry has finally found justice. “I feel like a ton of bricks has been lifted.”
Garry is now out of prison and has finally escaped the pursuit of the prosecutors in the Bronx. But he’s spent almost all of his adult life in a cell. Since he’s been out on bail, he’s been living with relatives in Florida and Long Island, trying to figure out what to do and how to live. During this trial, Garber said of Garry, “he kind of put himself in this zone where he would walk away on the breaks, not socialize with anyone and keep his head down, which was, in a way, a good thing, but it was very hard for him,” Garber said. “He’s struggling and suffering a lot. I’m hoping this will lift another burden off of him.” In 2016, when I interviewed Garry at Sing Sing prison, in New York’s Hudson Valley, he told me that he’d stopped exercising, and was taking his meals alone. “I lost my life for something I had nothing to do with,” he said.