There were many times Pablo Fernandez could have given up. Yet after spending over half his life behind bars, he never wavered in maintaining his innocence.
‘‘It was so difficult for me to be in prison for so many years when I knew the case against me was totally fabricated,” he said.
Fernandez, now 47, was only 22 at the time he was arrested and charged with a murder-for-hire killing of a gang member in Harlem. He was convicted on the word of several witnesses in 1996 and sentenced to 25-to-life.
Fernandez stated his family and attorneys never lost faith in his innocence, and their support was crucial as the appeals process dragged on for years into decades. Cracks began to appear in the prosecution’s case as one witness after another recanted their testimony and other information came to light that had been withheld at Fernandez’s trial.
In denying their original testimony, three eyewitnesses said they had been instructed by Albert Melino, a dirty NYPD cop, to finger Fernandez as the murderer. This ran counter to their first descriptions of the gunman as being middle-aged, light-skinned, with long, graying hair.
Fernandez was 20 and dark-skinned with his brown hair in a fade on the day of the murder.
Melino, it was later revealed, had been under investigation for distribution of a half-kilo of cocaine at the time of Fernandez’s trial. He was eventually fired from the force, but the case against him was dismissed after gathering dust for five years. He has faced no repercussions for his role in falsely convicting Fernandez.
An appellate court threw out Fernandez’s conviction in February, but, instead of dropping the charge against him, prosecutors threatened to retry Fernandez unless he could accept a plea of time-served for manslaughter.
He chose to remain in prison rather than admit to a crime he did not commit.
Seven months later, the Manhattan DA’s office dropped all charges against him because of a lack of evidence. Fernandez was finally a free man, left to try to rebuild the pieces of a shattered life.
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