Procedural errors during court hearings are not uncommon. This is also what happened to Jabbar Collins – however, it would take him 16 years behind bars before he could prove it. Collins was not unknown to the police, but when he was convicted by a New York court on 13 March 1995, he had little to do with the crime at hand. A landlord had been murdered near to where he lived, and witnesses testified that they had seen Jabbar Collins running out of the house with a gun in his hand, even though he had nothing to do with the murder. For the New York court, however, this was sufficient, so that he was sentenced to life in prison. The earliest he could have applied for release would have been in the year 2030.
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Collins was 20 at the time, living in social housing in Brooklyn. He had dropped out of high school and was living near the house where the murder took place. At the end of the trial in which he was found guilty, he went to prison at the age of 21. A destroyed life for the man who was already a father of three. What was left for him? Resignation? No, that was out of the question. A law degree? That was Collins’ answer, so he got to work.
How Jabbar Collins was exonerated by his own research
He used his acquired knowledge as he worked his way through his case layer by layer. It turned out that all three testimonies were false or forced, and that the public prosecutor’s office knew about this. As the prosecution was not able to produce another suspect, they coerced a witness into giving false testimony under threat of violence. The other one was even blackmailed to lie during trial, as he had a criminal record.
That is how Collins became a model student in prison. He slept little and read everything he could about the law. He learned to make inquiries and to contact official bodies that had come in contact with his case. Often there were no answers, but he did not give up. Over the years he spotted more and more irregularities in the files and he discovered that one testimony had been entirely invented by the prosecution. Finally, he called the two real witnesses from prison and both admitted to having lied.
But that didn’t help Collins yet, because the Kings County Supreme Court dismissed his lawsuit in 2007. The investigators involved in the trial simply denied everything and the court believed them. Collins, who by then was also represented by criminal defense lawyer Rudin, continued to fight and finally was successful. In 2010, they tracked down a former prosecutor who had evidence that one of the witnesses had been blackmailed by the authorities. As a result, a federal court finally acquitted Jabbar Collins in 2010.
Since the day he was released, Collins has been working as a paralegal in his lawyer’s office. He filed two lawsuits, one against the State of New York and one against the City of New York. After many years, he finally received $3 million from the state and $10 million from the city as compensation for his time in prison.