David Lemus, who was convicted in the 1990 killing of Palladium bouncer Marcus Peterson in 1992, was found not guilty yesterday at the conclusion of his retrial. His mother screamed when the verdict was read and Lemus' lawyers reportedly appeared stunned. The jury took only two days to deliberate and the foreman of the jury from the 1992 trial was present during much of the retrial. Before his original conviction for the 14th St. club killing was overturned in 2005, Lemus spent almost 14 years in prison.
The not guilty verdict hinged on the testimony of Thomas "Spanky" Morales, who confessed that he and another man were the shooters on Nov. 23, 1990 when the bouncer was killed. Two men who championed Lemus' innocence were NYPD detective Robert Addolorato and Steve Cohen, the prosecutor who elicited the exonerating confession from Joey Pilot, a cohort of Morales'. According to The New York Times, Addolorato began sobbing when the not guilty verdict was read.
The stakes were high for both the prosecution and defense. Lemus faced the possibility of heading back to prison for a crime he didn't commit and Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau knew that this could be very damaging to his reputation. The DA office's decision to re-prosecute Lemus even after an exculpatory confession arose seems highly questionable and Morgenthau assigned one of his most "forceful and effective" prosecutors to the case. Daniel Bibb, the attorney who argued for a retrial of Lemus after his conviction was overturned in 2005, has said even he had doubts about the defendant's guilt while prosecuting the case in the courtroom.
During the reinvestigation of the murder, evidence surfaced that showed police had received an anonymous tip fingering Morales as the killer, just days after Peterson was shot to death. The transcript of the 2005 Dateline NBC episode that widely publicized the possible innocence of Lemus can be found here. The producer of the episode, Daniel Slepian, became friends with Lemus and was on hand for the verdict.
Thomas Morales and the other shooter, Joey Pilot can't be prosecuted for the murder of Peterson because they've been granted immunity. The Palladium eventually closed in 1998 and is now an NYU dorm.