$1 Million Awarded NY Man 9 Years After His Exoneration

Justice:Denied magazine, Issue 27, Winter 2005, page 5

In 1990 Felix Ayala was shot to death on a Bronx street. A woman who said she witnessed the shooting from her bedroom window was later driven around by the police to look for suspects. As he was walking down a Bronx sidewalk, 20 year-old Milton Lantigua was ID’d by the woman as the shooter. The sole evidence against Lantigua was the woman’s ID, and the jury couldn’t arrive at a verdict after his trial, in 1990. Prosecutors then offered Lantigua a deal to plead guilty to weapons possession and be sentenced to time served. He refused, asserting his innocence. With no additional evidence, Lantigua was convicted of second degree murder after his retrial in 1992. He was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.

After his conviction, Lantigua’s accuser revealed that she had recanted her testimony to prosecutors prior to his second trial, and she had falsely testified. At an eviden-tiary hearing, a prosecutor testified that the woman had recanted, telling them that she hadn’t been alone looking out her window at the time of Ayala’s slaying, but she had been occupied with a man who was in her apartment.

In 1996, a state appeals court reversed Lantigua’s convic-tion on the basis that the only evidence tying him to Ayala’s murder was the woman’s unreliable testimony, “the evidence she gave was confusing, inarticulate, vague, frequently inaudible and extremely hesitant.” The Court also noted that prosecutors allowed her to testify without notifying the defense she had recanted. After Lantigua’s release prosecutors refused to charge her with perjury, claiming her false testimony was an “honest mistake.”

Lantigua spent six years wrongly imprisoned from his 1990 arrest to his 1996 exoneration. In February 2005 New York City agreed to pay Lantigua $1 million to settle his civil rights lawsuit against the city. The State of New York had settled with him in March 2004 for $300,000. So Lantigua was awarded a total of $1.3 million. His lawyer said, “For this amount of time in prison, for a totally innocent person, a law-abiding guy, it's not enough money.” Lantigua said he got what he wanted, “to clear my case, clean my name, and come out with a clean record.”

Source: Wrongfully Convicted Man Wins $1 Million Settlement, By Benjamin Weiser and Andrea Elliott, NY Times, Feb. 5, 2005.