A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the release of a man imprisoned 13 years for a 1987 Bronx slaying one week after a priest disclosed that another man had admitted to the crime.
U.S. District Judge Denny Chin released Jose Morales, 31, to live with his sister and brother-in-law pending review by the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.
In his decision, Chin ruled that the Bronx trial judge erred in denying a post-conviction motion for a new trial. "When Morales was denied the right to present this evidence, the erroneous evidentiary rulings rose to the level of a constitutional violation and Morales' trial was rendered fundamentally unfair," Chin ruled.
In a key part of the ruling, Chin said that statements made to Father Joseph Towle by the avowed killer, Jesus Fornes, even if a confession, could have been submitted as evidence. Fornes repeated the account he gave to Towle to others, waiving the privilege that generally prohibits use of statements from religious confessions as evidence, Chin said.
Morales' co-defendant, Ruben Montalvo, remains in prison. Randa Maher, an attorney for both men, said she and co-counsel Jeffrey Pittell will file an appeal on Montalvo's behalf today.