NEW YORK (AP) — Earlier this year, a man locked up more than 15 years for murder wrote federal prosecutors in Manhattan telling them what he'd said all along and what authorities hear from inmates all the time: that he was wrongly convicted.
But in this instance, Eric Glisson also named members of a violent drug gang he suggested were the true killers. It was a shot in the dark. But it turns out he may be right.
Authorities and defense attorneys say the letter has become a catalyst for a possible reprieve for Glisson and four other people serving time for the 1995 slaying of a cab driver in the Bronx — a homicide all say they didn't commit.
"I'm pretty optimistic I'll be released," Glisson told The Associated Press in a brief phone interview Friday from Sing Sing prison, 30 miles north of New York City.
"It's been an uphill struggle," he added. "But I've always believed right will overpower wrong."
After reinvestigating the case at Glisson's urging, federal prosecutors provided new evidence to the Bronx district attorney. The findings have not been made public, and a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office declined to comment.
But The New York Times reported Friday that they include an affidavit from a federal investigator who reviewed the case and concluded that the evidence was "overwhelming" that two convicted gang members "acting alone, robbed and shot" the Bronx cabbie.
When the 37-year-old Glisson heard federal authorities were prepared to take the rare step of vouching for a state convict's innocence, "I was elated," he said. But the elation subsided when Bronx prosecutors, after being presented with the new evidence at a meeting last month, balked at admitting they botched the prosecution.
Prosecutors told Glisson's attorney, Peter A. Cross, he would have to file a motion asking a judge to order a new trial — a process that could take months.
In his statement, District Attorney Robert Johnson said his office was taking the matter seriously, but had "not yet been able to resolve all of the questions that have been raised by this evidence." His spokesman declined to comment further on Friday.
Livery cab driver Baith Diop was gunned down on Jan. 19, 1995, amid a rash of taxi driver murders around the city. Press accounts had described how, according to police, the Senegalese immigrant begged for his life before being shot in the back and neck. Ballistics showed that he was shot with two .38-caliber handguns that were never recovered.
Rather than treat the crime as a fatal holdup, New York Police Department detectives and prosecutors linked it to a complex conspiracy by a band of drug dealers involved in the execution-style killing of a woman two days earlier. Investigators alleged that Diop was killed as part of a related scheme to steal a pile of drug money that one of his passengers was carrying that night.
At the first of two trials, three men were convicted in both the killing of the woman and Diop. At the second, a jury found Glisson and another defendant guilty in the cabbie homicide. All received lengthy sentences.
Glisson's lawyer said that as the years passed, his client exhausted all his appeals before writing the letter to federal prosecutors. In it, he said he had heard that the cabbie killing was the work of a gang called Sex, Money and Murder or SMM.
The letter, though addressed to a prosecutor who had left the office, by coincidence made its way into the hands of an investigator who was a former Bronx homicide detective familiar with SMM, the Times reported.
The names of two SMM members rang a bell: Both had confessed to killing a Bronx cab driver in late 1994 or early 1995 — an admission that couldn't be corroborated at the time — after becoming cooperators in 2003.
The investigator re-interviewed the two men. They described again how they were riding in a cab together when they decided to rob the driver. When they put up a fight, they shot him and jumped out of the car without knowing whether he was dead.
Glisson's hope that the investigator's belief in his innocence is his ticket to vindication is tempered by years of disappointment.
"Deep down, I feel like the justice system failed me," he said. "But you just have to try to move on."