Jon-Adrian “J.J.” Velazquez was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 25 years to life for the shooting death of Albert Ward at the illegal gambling parlor the former NYPD officer operated. On Jan. 27, 1998, about half a dozen people, nearly all drug users or dealers, were inside the gambling parlor when two men came in and announced a robbery. Witnesses told police that one of the men had a gun; the other started binding people with duct tape. A struggle ensued and Ward, the former cop, was shot once in the head.
Velazquez, who said he was at home speaking on the phone with his mother at the time of the robbery, has always maintained his innocence. His case and new information suggesting he may have been wrongfully convicted were the focus of a “Dateline NBC” investigation last year and his innocence has been championed by actor Martin Sheen.
The initial descriptions of the gunman was entirely incomatible with Velazquez.
The witness who first identified Velazquez, now says that when he was brought in by police to look at photos, he had 10 bags of heroin in his possession. He also said that police pressured him to make an identification. Only after he picked someone at random – who turned out to be Velazquez — was he allowed to leave the precinct station, he said, adding that he was allowed to take the drugs with him.
A second witness, who had identified Velazquez in court, also recanted, saying “I told police that this was the guy and I was sure, but this was not the truth.” The witness, who was facing a drug charge of his own at the time, said, “I felt pressured because the police were threatening to arrest me.”