ST. GEORGE — Family, friends and activists rallied Monday outside the Staten Island District Attorney's office, claiming a new videotaped deathbed confession exonerates another man convicted of murder 20 years ago. But DA Michael McMahon is standing by the conviction of Foster Thompson.
McMahon declined to vacate the case earlier this month and the prosecutor who tried it years ago said Monday he's certain the right man is behind bars.
"I lived with this case for three years, this case has been examined inside and out," said former prosecutor Mark Macron, who was accused of misconduct on the case by Thompson's lawyer.
"I don't believe beyond a reasonable doubt, I believe he's guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt."
Lawyers for Thompson, 53, said he was falsely convicted in 1994 for the murder of Cynthia Browning in a New Brighton apartment building with accomplice Gilbert Franklin, the New York Daily News first reported.
They claim they have a videotaped confession from the real killer in the country of Jamaica, a deathbed recanting of testimony by a witness and proof of misconduct by Macron, including manipulating witnesses to testify against Thompson.
"We've presented what we think is extremely compelling evidence of Foster's innocence," said his lawyer Abe George, a former Manhattan prosecutor. "We didn't just look for a technicality to find that Foster's innocent."
A spokesman for the DA said the office "thoroughly investigated" the findings of Thompson's legal team and declined to vacate the conviction.
"There is insufficient credible evidence to support an application to set aside the jury's verdict at this time," the spokesman said in a statement. "Of course, we will continue to look at any additional facts if they are brought to light."
Macron, who once ran for City Council against Debi Rose, called George's accusations against him "absurd" and said there was plenty of evidence against Thompson.
Aside from witnesses, officers also spotted Thompson throwing a gun while being chased near the scene by them and ballistic tests later matched it to shells found in the Jersey Street apartment where Browning was killed.
"These guys don't have a grasp on the facts of the case," Macron said. "There's no credible evidence."
Since the DA's decision, George has called on the Attorney General's Civil Rights Unit to open up an independent investigation into the issue.
Thompson's family was heartbroken by the decision, maintaining his innocence all these years, and chanted for his release through tears in front of McMahon's office Monday.
"The pain you could never forget," said his mother, Brenda Thompson, 74.
"I've been in the hospital several times for ailments relating to this because I've watched my son be railroaded."
Thompson and Franklin were accused for the July 4, 1992 murder of Browning in the New Brighton "drug-stash house" with Franklin, George said.
The pair were first tried together but it ended with a mistrial. The cases were then split up and Thompson was convicted after a two-hour jury deliberation in 1994 for the murder and he was sentenced to 37-and-a-half years to life behind bars, Macron said.
The case was later appealed but the conviction stuck, according to Macron.
"This file has been gone over by very experienced appellate attorneys, this file has been gone over by lawyers and the District Attorney's office and they found nothing," he said.
A private investigator doing pro-bono work for the family asked George to look into the case and he started work more than two years ago investigating Thompson's innocence.
He eventually got a deathbed confession from witness Denise Concepcion recanting her statement pinning the murder on Thompson, George said. He then flew to Jamaica and got a videotape of David Clark, known as Jamaican Tony, saying he actually murdered Browning, according to George.
An accomplice who was there also told George that Jamaican Tony pulled the trigger, not Thompson, which he though would be enough to overturn the conviction.
"One of the critiques about Mr. McMahon when he first came into office was his lack of any prosecutorial experience and I think it's really showing on this particular case," said George.
Another key witness in the crime, Alton Staley, has been represented by Macron since he left the DA's office for a variety of cases and has refused to be questioned by George. He claims it's unethical for Macron, who worked as a prosecutor under DA William Murphy, to represent Staley.
"If it becomes a problem, and not because they say its a problem, I'll recuse myself," Macron said.
Macron said Thompson also shot Staley twice during the incident, once at point blank range, and Concepcion went in front of juries three times and testified against Thompson. He said his team wasn't aware of a man named Jamaican Tony as a suspect during the trials.