THE BRONX — A man convicted of killing a teenager six years ago was set free on Monday afternoon because the prosecution withheld a key piece of evidence during the trial.
Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark announced Monday morning that she would move to vacate the conviction of 31-year-old Steven Odiase, who had been serving a sentence of 25 years to life for killing 15-year-old Juan Jerez, following a review of the case by her office's Conviction Integrity Unit.
"Because Odiase did not receive a fair trial, I will ask the court on Monday, April 17, 2017, to vacate Odiase’s conviction in the interest of justice so he can be freed as soon as possible while we determine whether to retry him," Clark said.
Odiase had been convicted of murder for the 2009 death of Jerez, who was fatally shot at the corner of Minerva Place and Creston Avenue, following a jury trial, and he had been sentenced to possible life imprisonment in 2013, according to the Bronx District Attorney's Office.
His co-defendant Daikwan Giles, who was convicted during the same trial, had confessed to the shooting and been identified by eyewitnesses.
Odiase's attorneys Pierre Sussman, Jonathan Edelstein and Robert Grossman asked the Conviction Integrity Unit to look at his case in 2016.
During the review, Assistant District Attorney Risa Gerson discovered that the defense team had received a redacted version of a detective's report that blacked out a witness description of the shooter that did not match with Odiase, the Bronx DA's Office said.
"The version that was handed over to the defense had key information missing," Gerson said during Odiase's court appearance, "specifically, a description of the shooter that did not match either defendant."
Sussman said that only one eyewitness had actually identified Odiase as the shooter, and a subsequent interview with him "cast serious doubt on his previous trial testimony."
Odiase appeared in court before Bronx Supreme Court Justice Steven Barrett, who said he would "not stand in the way" of both the defense and the prosecution and vacated Odiase's conviction, allowing him to walk out of court a free man.
However, he is not completely done with the borough's criminal justice system yet, as the Bronx DA's Office will now further review the case and determine whether or not to retry him.
Sussman praised the Bronx DA's Office for trying to throw out Odiase's conviction, but he said he would like the office to soon go one step further and completely exonerate his client.
"We're hopeful that they will dismiss the indictment sooner rather than later," he said.
Odiase left the courthouse without taking questions from reporters, but his sister Kalimah Odiase said she was thrilled to hear the judge vacate his conviction.
"It's been very hard, but you know, we're glad that he's home," she said.
"It felt good," she continued, "because we've been hurting for a long time."
Both sides are due back in court on June 13.