NEW YORK — Actor Martin Sheen said Thursday he won't stop backing a man's bid to be exonerated in a 1998 killing, although prosecutors have concluded the case was sound.
Sheen said in a statement he was outraged by the Manhattan district attorney's recent decision in the case of Jon-Adrian Velazquez, who was convicted of killing a retired police officer. Some witnesses have since backtracked, but prosecutors say an 18-month-long review didn't turn up enough proof to clear Velazquez.
"I promised Jon-Adrian that I would not give up the fight to see him walk out of prison a free man and I repeat that promise today," Sheen said in the statement, provided by Velazquez' lawyers, who filed papers Thursday asking a judge to dismiss the case.
"He is an innocent man, wrongfully convicted. May justice prevail," Sheen added.
The star of TV's "The West Wing" and the movie "Apocalypse Now" got involved in the case about two years ago; his lawyer is a friend of one of Velazquez' attorneys, Robert Gottlieb. Sheen reviewed the transcript of Velazquez' trial and visited him in prison in December 2011, holding a news conference afterward outside a Manhattan courthouse.
Velazquez was convicted of shooting long-retired officer Albert Ward during a robbery in an underground betting parlor in Harlem. Velazquez and his mother have said he was on the phone with her from his Bronx home at the time.
With no DNA or other physical evidence against Velazquez, the case hinged on eyewitnesses.
After his conviction, two eyewitnesses recanted their identifications of him, although prosecutors said one later changed his mind again. Two other eyewitnesses stand by their testimony.
But given the witnesses' wavering and broader questions about the solidity of eyewitness identifications, "there is nothing left to this case justifying Mr. Velazquez spending one more moment" behind bars, Gottlieb said at a news conference. He and partner Celia Gordon also have said authorities didn't do enough to pursue leads to a possible other suspect.
The DA's office reviewed the case for a year and a half but "did not uncover evidence sufficient to demonstrate that Mr. Velazquez is innocent," spokeswoman Erin Duggan said in a statement.
"Any suggestion that this was other than a thorough re-investigation is, simply put, false," she added.
Prosecutors have noted that two eyewitnesses remain firm in their views and that courts have expressed some misgivings about recantations in general. A potential suspect identified by Velazquez' lawyers wasn't in New York when Ward was killed, prosecutors say.
Velazquez is serving 25 years to life.
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