NEW YORK (AP) — Almost a quarter-century after a notorious tourist slaying that fueled a sense of a city out of control, one of the convicted killers made a new bid for exoneration Monday, with the help of a man cleared in the case.
Lawyers for Johnny Hincapie filed papers seeking a new trial for Hincapie in the death of Brian Watkins, a 22-year-old killed defending his mother from a subway-platform mugging in September 1990. The family was in town from Provo, Utah, to attend the U.S. Open tennis tournament.
"The last victim in the Brian Watkins case ... is Johnny Hincapie," attorney Ron Kuby told reporters outside a Manhattan courthouse.
Hincapie, 41, has unsuccessfully challenged his conviction before, court records show. Monday's filing cites new evidence: a sworn statement from an exonerated co-defendant saying Hincapie played no part in the attack.
Hincapie also maintains that police coerced him into confessing. After insisting he knew nothing about the robbery, a detective "blew smoke in his face, screamed at him, pulled his hair, slapped him and pushed Johnny to the floor with his foot," according to the defense filing.
Hincapie has spent more than two decades behind bars.
"It's been an ordeal," said his father, Carlos. "It's been 23 years of suffering."
Erin Duggan, a spokeswoman for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., said Vance's office was reviewing the motion to vacate Hincapie's conviction.
A year after the rape and beating of a woman known as the Central Park jogger, Watkins' killing crystallized the shock and fear of a summer that had been rife with random violence in the city. His death helped prompt then-Mayor David Dinkins to propose a program designed to increase police protection.
Watkins and his parents were heading to dinner when a group of youths jumped them in a subway station near Manhattan's theater district.
Watkins was stabbed in the chest when he tried to protect his mother, Karen, who had been punched and kicked. His father, Sherwin, was knocked down, slashed and robbed of $200.
Their son chased the attackers up two stairways, collapsed and died under a turnstile, leaving a 230-foot-long trail of blood.
Hincapie, then 18, was among eight young men who were arrested in the case. Another defendant was accused of actually stabbing Watkins, but authorities said the whole group bore responsibility for his death.
Police said the youths acknowledged hunting for people to rob to get money to go to a nearby dance hall, but they told investigators they didn't intend to kill anyone. Hincapie also confessed to helping plan the holdup and grabbing a woman to stop her from helping a man who had been knocked to the ground, according to a 2001 federal court decision rejecting one of Hincapie's appeals.
He and six others were convicted of murder and robbery and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
"I'm very sorry for the loss of their son. ... I ask you in the name of Jesus Christ to give me some type of chance," he told the judge at his 1992 sentencing.
Charges were dropped against the eighth person arrested, Luis Montero, after witnesses said he wasn't involved in the attack.
Montero has now provided a sworn statement saying Hincapie was in his sight at the time and couldn't have participated in the killing.
"I didn't come forward until now to talk about what I know and what I know about Johnny not being there because no one asked me," he said in his statement. "I was also afraid of dealing with law enforcement again."
In the Central Park case, a 28-year-old investment banker was sexually assaulted while running there in April 1989. Five teen suspects confessed in the jogger attack but later recanted, and claimed the confessions were coerced. Their convictions were vacated in 2002 after an imprisoned rapist confessed to committing the crime.