John Giuca’s life took a turn for the worse last year, after an appellate court overturned his murder conviction, ruling that the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, then led by Joe Hynes, had used “knowingly false or mistaken material testimony” to convict Giuca in 2005 for the 2003 murder of 19-year-old Mark Fisher at a house party in Brooklyn.
The decision came nearly after 15 years of failed appeals — including a judge all but throwing Giuca’s mother out of his courtroom after she’d taken on an assumed identity to secretly record an anti-Semitic juror boasting about how he’d lied to get on the jury and help lock up JEW-kah
In that 2005 trial, prosecutor Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi offered in her opening argument a theory of the murder she said would be borne out by Giuca’s former girlfriend and best friend. When those two witnesses instead offered conflicting accounts, each suggesting the other was a liar, Nicolazzi produced her final witness, a junkie who’d been in Riker’s with Giuca and overheard him confess to a completely different account of the murder.
In her closing argument, she told jurors they should believe the junkie. No one other than prosecutors — not the judge, or the defense attorney, or the jurors — knew that the surprise star witness had just been helped out of a serious jam by Nicolazzi (who quietly left the office during Giuca’s final appeal to work as a true crime cable host).
Yet Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, despite his impressive promises about undoing Hynes’ legacy and bringing a fairer justice system to Brooklyn, has stood squarely behind Nicolazzi’s work, vowing to retry Giuca and appealing the appellate court’s decision to the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court and one that rarely considers criminal cases.
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They chose to consider this one, and after oral arguments last week from the DA’s office and Giuca attorney Mark Bederow, a decision should come later this spring.
Last fall, Janet DiFiore, the chief judge of the Court of Appeals and of New York State, issued a system-wide “Implementation of New Measure Aimed at Enhancing the Delivery of Justice in Criminal Cases” intended “to help prevent wrongful convictions and enhance the delivery of justice in criminal matters” by requiring trial judges to “issue an order to the prosecutor responsible for the case to timely disclose exculpatory evidence favorable to the accused.”
That’s a fancy way of saying prosecutors need to play fair and share potentially relevant facts — like, say, a homicide prosecutor showing up at at a junkie’s drug court case to speak privately with the judge just before the junkie testifies at the prosecutor’s murder trial.
The reminder was needed because New York’s exceptionally weak disclosure laws had left each county’s DA with vast discretion to decide what justice would look like on their watch. That’s supposed to change, now that Albany’s newly all-Democratic state government passed a reform package including a law finally requiring timely and complete disclosures — overdue in a system where few cases even make it to trial and, as The News reported last week, even completely innocent people framed by a dirty drug detective will plead guilty rather than risk years in prison with little idea of what they’re up against.
About that turn for the worse: Giuca — now presumed innocent — is in his second year back at Rikers, where he is being held without bail awaiting a new trial in conditions worse than those he survived in state prisons. I can’t imagine a new trial actually happening all this time after the first one nearly collapsed and after the DA’s office — perhaps playing for time now — insisted in appeals that the junkie who salvaged their “win” there is a habitual liar.
I don’t know whether or not Giuca is a murderer; I do know his trial was a farce. Fifteen years and counting too late for him, fairer discovery in New York can’t begin soon enough.