A man convicted of a murder that took place outside a Sunset Park strip club in 2001 may soon be free, as Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez has taken the first steps in vacating that conviction.
Gonzalez announced on Fri., Feb 22 that he was taking the action after an investigation by his Conviction Review Unit (CRU) revealed that 39-year-old Bladimil Arroyo, who was incarcerated in 2001 after being convicted in the shooting death of Gabor Muronvi, had not received a fair trial.
According to the CRU, the only evidence against Arroyo was contained in a confession that included a false fact likely told to him by police — that the victim had been stabbed, not shot. In addition, according to Gonzalez’s office, some notes by the detectives investigating the case had not been shared with the defense.
“While we cannot say that Mr. Arroyo was not involved in this crime, a thorough investigation by my Conviction Review Unit has concluded that he was deprived of a fair trial, and this undermines our confidence in his conviction,” Gonzalez said. “Confirmation bias and nondisclosure of certain police documents led to this outcome and I am confident that policy changes that have been made over the ensuing years and additional recommendations by the CRU will ensure that these mistakes are not repeated. I remain fully committed to correcting every past injustice that took place in Brooklyn.”
According to the DA’s office, in the early morning of September 16, 2001, Muronvi was walking with a friend when he was killed during a botched robbery near what was then the Sweet Cherry strip club in Sunset Park.
Arroyo taken into custody shortly after, when police followed a car that had left the crime scene, and encountered him and a co-defendant, who had been injured during the confrontation with Muronvi and his friend.
Later that day, Arroyo was charged with murder and other, related counts, after he confessed to trying to rob the two men as well as stabbing the victim in the upper chest during a struggle. A doctor had previously erroneously informed police that the victim had died from a stab wound to the heart. The day after Arroyo was charged, the medical examiner reported to police that the cause of death had been a single gunshot wound in the chest and told them that the victim had not been stabbed.
Arroyo’s confession was subsequently used at trial, with the prosecutor telling the jury that the defendant had confessed to using a knife in an attempt to minimize his culpability in the fatal shooting. The victim’s friend, who initially told police that there were three assailants, testified that there were only two. He did not identify Arroyo at the trial.
Arroyo was convicted in November, 2002 of second-degree murder, attempted robbery and assault. He was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.
According to the CRU’s investigation, police accounts about Arroyo’s confession were “incomplete at best and misleading at worst because they did not explain how Arroyo came to describe erroneous facts that police believed to be true at the time.”
According to the CRU, the documents not turned over to the defense included notes on the surviving victim’s identification of another individual as a possible attacker, as well as those containing a detective’s initial statement that there were three people in the car that left the scene, and a description of the car’s passenger, which didn’t match the defendant. In addition, the CRU highlighted the untimely disclosure of the surviving victim’s past conviction, which allowed him to testify falsely about the circumstances of that conviction.
Had the defense had those notes, the CRU concluded, their case would have been strengthened.
In addition, the CRU pointed out, because the crime occurred a few days following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, usual processes of obtaining police reports were disrupted and documents were received “late and piecemeal.”
Arroyo is due in court today, and will appear before Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Matthew D’Emic.
Arroyo would be the 25th person whose conviction has been vacated by Brooklyn’s CRU since it was established in 2014.