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Court overturns 3 convictions in N.Y. police torture case

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Louima declined comment on the ruling Thursday.  


NEW YORK (CNN) -- A U.S. federal appeals court Thursday overturned the convictions of three of the four white police officers implicated in the torture of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima, finding insufficient evidence they obstructed justice.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the convictions of Charles Schwarz, Thomas Wiese and Thomas Bruder.

The ruling does not affect the conviction of the chief attacker, Justin Volpe, 29, who pleaded guilty in 1999 to violating Louima's civil rights and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Volpe's conviction was upheld previously by the court.

Nor will the decision affect the $8.7 million settlement Louima reached last year with the city of New York, his attorney Sanford Rubenstein said. Louima now lives in Miami, and declined comment on the ruling Thursday.

Rubenstein said Louima is a victim of perhaps one of the worst examples of police brutality in the history of this country.

Louima's case led to a major shakeup of the New York Police Department. Charges against him were later dropped.

"He wants to live his life like any of us would want to live their lives, without any further need to comment," Rubenstein said. Louima would cooperate with federal authorities in any retrials, his lawyer said.

Prosecutors to pursue new assault trial for Schwarz

After Louima's arrest in 1997 for a scuffle outside a nightclub, Volpe assaulted him in the patrol car and later sodomized him with a broomstick handle inside the 70th Precinct station house. Louima suffered severe internal injuries.

Volpe's attorney, Marvin Kornberg, said Thursday's decision does not alter his client's conviction, but could lead to a reduced sentence for him.

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CNN's Deborah Feyerick describes the court's ruling to overturn convictions of three New York police officers in the Abner Louima torture case (February 28)

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"It now means that in his second trial against Schwarz, he will be able to take the stand ... and tell the story as to who was in the bathroom with him," Kornberg said.

Schwarz, 36, was convicted of participating in the bathroom assault and, in a second trial, for conspiring to cover up his role. He has served two years of his 15-year sentence. He has maintained his innocence, saying he was nowhere near the bathroom.

The appeals court Thursday found the jury was "improperly exposed" to outside information during its deliberations and because Schwarz's lawyer had a conflict of interest.

Acting U.S. Attorney Alan Vinegrad, the lead prosecutor in the case, said the government is prepared to re-try the case against Schwarz. But he said he could do nothing about the Wiese and Bruder convictions being tossed out.

"Of course we are disappointed by that result, but the court has spoken, and we accept its decision," Vinegrad said.

Volpe had always said it was not Schwarz who was with him, Kornberg said. Though he told that to the U.S. attorney, the information never was presented to the jury.

"The failure to bring that forth to the jury at that time may have been the cause of the jury finding Schwarz guilty," he said. After voting to convict, three jurors, in sworn affidavits, said they had learned of Volpe's statement from news accounts, the appeals court wrote. It called the jury "contaminated."

The appeals court also found that Schwarz's attorney, Stephen Worth, had a conflict of interest by being on retainer with the police department's union, which was named as a defendant in Louima's civil suit.

Thursday, Worth said he was pleased with the decision of the appeals court but felt it was reached for the wrong reasons. "I certainly dispute there was any conflict that affected his [Schwarz's] representation," said Worth. "I always believed in Chuck's innocence."

Officers said in shock, ecstatic

After the decision, Schwarz received a call from his attorney, Ron Fischetti, and his wife, Andra. "I think he was still in shock. He was very emotional," Mrs. Schwarz said.

Fischetti said he expected Schwarz to be transferred home in a few days.

Wiese's lawyer, Joe Tacopina, described his client as "ecstatic."

Bruder lives and works on Long Island, said his attorney Stuart London.

Bruder, 39, and Wiese, 36, who were acquitted of assaulting Louima, were later convicted of conspiring to obstruct justice by lying to investigators. They had been sentenced to five years in prison, but are free on bond and won't face a new trial. The appeals court found that while the officers made misleading statements, they did not do so to a grand jury.



 
 
 
 


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