QUEENS — A judge will decide if a Harlem man in his 20th year of a life sentence should be freed after key witnesses recanted their testimony, saying a Queens prosecutor strongarmed them to get a conviction.
Assistant District Attorney Debra Lynn Pomodore refused to take "no" for an answer back in 1994 when a witness could not identify petty drug dealer Robert Jones as the man who gunned down Antoine Stone in Far Rockaway, a court filing claims.
Jones's lawyer, who filed a 37-page application in early May asking a judge to overturn the conviction, said that during the investigation, Pomodore became frustrated with the answers from one female eyewitness.
The veteran prosecutor then instructed detectives to take the witness "to another room and straighten this out," the witness said in an affidavit.
Jones claims the prosecutor told another eyewitness to mention on the stand the brand name of a bicycle involved in a crime was a "Ross" because that was the type of bike cops found in Jones's apartment.
His application also states that two witnesses for the prosecution, a man and a woman who have since recanted their testimony, were threatened and harassed into testifying and detectives even showed them photos of him to prep them for a lineup.
"After the detectives kept coming back to my house, I repeated to them that I could not help them because I could not identify either of the persons," the female eyewitness said in her recantation.
"On one occasion I refused to open the door. The detectives said if I did not open the door to let them in, they would get a woman police officer to open the door."
On the day of the lineup, the woman said that she still could not identify the culprit in the case.
"We'll make it very easy for you, this is the guy," cops allegedly told the witness, showing her a photo of Jones.
The witness said police threatened to lock her up if she knew anything and wasn't being truthful.
At the trial, the woman described seeing a man flee the scene but she never identidied Jones from the witness stand, according to court papers.
This isn't the first time Pomodore's legal tactics have been called into question.
She made the news in March this year when her 2000 conviction of a man in an Astoria nightclub murder evaporated after a judge found that a witness lied on the stand about being paid by the District Attorney's office.
Pomodore also took some heat in 2008 for dragging her feet on a murder prosecution involving a domestic violence victim defendant and blaming the cops when the case was dismissed.
Jones is making his bid for freedom after spending the last 19 years in the Wallkill Correctional Facility in upstate New York. He was found guilty of gunning down 27-year-old Stone in Far Rockaway on Sept. 10, 1994 as he tried to convert drug dealers to Christianity.
The murderer, described as a man on a bicycle by witnesses, intercepted Stone just after midnight as he walked down Mott Avenue, and shot him in the stomach. The man then zig-zaged off on his bike, sideswiping a car and setting of its alarm as he fled.
"I was preaching to a drug dealer on a bike and he shot me. Why did he shoot me?" Stone said to witnesses as he lay on the street dying, prosecutors said at the trial.
Investigators spent the next two weeks chasing leads in the case until an anonymous tip over the Crime Stoppers hotline on Sept. 24 led them to Jones.
Stone and Jones had been junior high school schoolmates. They were friends and at some point they became lovers as well, according to court testimony.
Stone found religion early in life and would counsel his friend about his drug use and petty drug dealing, Jones said in court records.
When Det. Gerald Weiser arrived at Jones' Harlem apartment door on Sept. 25, 1994, he knew from neighbors that they'd been looking for him, he claims in court papers.
"I know why you are here," Jones told detectives. "I did not kill Antoine Stone."
Detectives found .22 and .45 caliber bullets and a Ross mountain bike in his apartment, but no gun, records show.
Detectives did discover that the ballistics from the bullet pulled out of Stone matched the ballistics from bullets tied to two other shootings in Far Rockaway in which Jones was not implicated. That information, which could have reflected favorably on Jones, was never brought to his lawyer's attention, his lawyer argues.
"There is nothing more troubling than witnessing a person who has been convicted of a crime he or she did not commit," Jones' lawyer writes in his brief. "There is credible evidence that Mr. Jones was wrongfully convicted."
Queens DA spokesman Kevin Ryan said the office was "working on our response and will continue to pursue the matter."
Stone's family could not be reached for comment.