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Morales v. Portuondo

United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
154 F. Supp. 2d 706 (S.D.N.Y. 2001)


Jose Morales (defendant) and Ruben Montalvo were convicted of the murder of Jose Antonio Rivera in 1998. Rivera had been walking down the street with his family when he was accosted by a group of teenagers with whom he had previously had hostile dealings. The teenagers chased Rivera and beat and stabbed him to death. Morales and Montalvo were convicted of the murder, though they steadfastly maintained their innocence. Shortly after the convictions but before the sentencing, Jesus Fornes, another teenager, confessed that he, not Morales and Montalvo, had committed the murder. Fornes confessed to a priest, Father Joseph Towle, to Montalvo’s mother, to Morales’ attorney, and to a Legal Aid attorney, Stanley Cohen. However, at a later hearing on a motion to set aside the verdict, Fornes refused to testify. Towle refused to testify on grounds of a priest-penitent privilege; Cohen also refused based on the attorney-client privilege; and the statements made to Montalvo’s mother and Morales’s attorney were hearsay. Morales and Montalvo went to prison for the murder. In 1997, Fornes was killed in an unrelated accident. In 2001, Morales filed a habeas corpus petition, and at the hearing, Morales called five witnesses, including Towle and Cohen. Morales contended he was denied due process because he was not permitted to present evidence of Fornes’ statements in his defense.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Chin, J.)

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