LOWER MANHATTAN — After 14 years laboring in obscurity, Maria Velazquez has a powerful new ally in the fight to free her son.
The long-suffering mother is getting a boost from actor Martin Sheen, who has thrown his weight behind Jon-Adrian Velazquez, telling reporters he believes the 36-year-old convicted killer is innocent. The "West Wing" star is urging Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance to keep an "open mind" as they review the case through the newly-created Conviction Integrity Unit.
"He’s a young man on fire with the truth," Sheen said Monday outside Manhattan Criminal Court. "We’re not going to give up until he walks out of Sing-Sing a free man."
Velazquez was convicted of shooting ex-cop Albert Ward in Harlem during a robbery gone wrong in 1998. But attorney Robert Gottlieb, who is now spearheading the quest to set Velazquez free, said that conviction was based solely on eye-witness testimony, much of which has fallen into question.
He and other supporters believe that could be enough to vacate the conviction.
The district attorney's office confirmed the Conviction Integrity Unit is reviewing materials submitted by Velazquez's legal team. Since its inception in 2010, the body has received about 100 referrals, reinvestigated about a dozen cases and vacated one conviction, a spokesperson said.
"This is a step closer," Velazquez’s wife, Zulay Velazquez, said of the possibility that her husband's conviction is being reviewed. "This is a knock on the door and we’re going to keep banging on until it breaks apart."
Sheen, a longtime activist, became involved with the case about a month ago, after he was introduced to Gottlieb through mutual acquaintance."I'm not a stranger to occassionally stepping out for peace and social justice," Sheen said. "So here I am again."