A state Supreme Court judge has denied a new trial for a Staten Island man who has been in jail for 27 years for a murder case despite his proclamations of innocence and what his lawyer said is another man's confession to the crime.
Foster Thompson, 55, and his family had anticipated Judge Alexander Jeong would vacate Thompson's 1994 murder conviction based on the new evidence, and gathered at a State Supreme Court appearance Thursday prepared to celebrate.
The vacated conviction, which would set the stage for a new trial, would have been a first for Staten Island, according to Thompson's lawyer Abe George.
Jeong instead dismissed the new evidence in a 37-page decision, saying some of it did not meet the standard of "newly discovered evidence," citing a failure to prove Thompson's innocence and noting witnesses lacked credibility.
"We are very disappointed," his wife, Sandra Harris-Thompson said in a phone interview.
Thompson was convicted for the 1992 slaying of Cynthia Browning and the attempted murder of Alton Staley in a botched robbery inside a Staten Island apartment. He has maintained his innocence, saying he was not at the scene of the murder. His conviction happened after three trials -- the Staten Island Advance said the first trial ended at jury selection after "a female juror reportedly engaged in conversation with several female relatives of one of the defendants after being confronted in a women's restroom." The second trial ended in mistrial with the jury deadlocked in a 10-2 vote to acquit. After being convicted in the third trial, Thompson was sentenced to 37 years to life in prison.
The heart of the new evidence was a private investigator's videotaped interview with a man named David "Jamaican Tony" Clark, who admitted in the interview that he and another man who carried out the robbery of that night. In his ruling, Jeong said it doesn't constitute newly-discovered evidence because the defense has known about Clark for years and could not produce him as a witness.
Thompson's attorney criticized Jeong's ruling, saying, "It wasn't a balanced view of the evidence."
In a borough with a nearly 90 percent conviction rate of felony indictments, George said the Thompson family has felt they can't get justice. "The family sentiment is that there can't be justice for minorities in Staten Island. And, you know, they don't feel like there's an equal playing field in terms of justice," he said, and added, "This is still the borough of Eric Garner."
The Richmond County district attorney's office issued a statement to NY1 saying it found "insufficient credible evidence to support setting aside the jury's verdict."
Thompson plans to appeal.
"We'll be filing an appeal. We have a lot of faith in Abe and his team," Sandra Harris-Thompson said. "We're sure we're going to get a positive outcome, just not in Staten Island."