Skip navigation

Exonerated Prisoner Sues New York City for 16 Years of Wrongful Incarceration

Former New York prisoner Ricardo Jimenez, 55, filed suit in federal court for the Southern District of New York on August 2, 2023, accusing New York City and three former officers with its Police Department (NYPD), as well as the Bronx County District Attorney’s Office (DAO), of violating his civil rights when they railroaded him into a murder conviction of which he was later exonerated. The suit seeks $50 million in compensation for 16 years of wrongful imprisonment that followed.

Jimenez was convicted of a brazen July 1989 murder at the Bronx’s Whitestone Cinemas, in which 20-year-old Sean Worrell was shot to death during a screening of Batman. Initial witness accounts described an argument between Worrell and his friends and another man while they stood in line for popcorn. Concession stand workers described all involved as Black men, noting both victim and shooter spoke with Jamaican accents.

Esco Blaylock, 15, who also worked at the theater, initially didn’t give a detailed description of the shooter. However, he later claimed that he knew the shooter as “Leon,” a Black man with light skin and the ability to mimic a Jamaican accent. Though he later changed his story and said he didn’t witness the shooting, his testimony led police to identify Jimenez, who was Puerto Rican and allegedly sometimes known as “Leon.” Arrested but not positively identified—because Blaylock failed to appear at a lineup—Jimenez was released, and the case went cold.

Then in 2000, Andrew O’Brien, a federal prisoner with a cooperation agreement for a reduced sentence, claimed to be an eyewitness and identified Jimenez from a mugshot he was shown. However, it wasn’t until 2006 that police again contacted Blaylock. Changing his story again, he claimed to be a witness, after all, identifying Jimenez as Worrell’s killer. A jailhouse snitch named Kevin Morrissey, who was held at Riker’s Island with Jimenez after his arrest, claimed to have heard his confession. Jimenez was convicted of second-degree murder in 2007 and sentenced to a prison term of 22 years to life.

In addition to the problematic witness identifications, however, there was also exculpatory evidence that wasn’t fully disclosed, including the extent of O’Brien’s cooperation agreement, as well as his involvement in a criminal gang with lots of enemies. Also not disclosed was evidence of Morrissey’s serious mental illness. Moreover, the jury never heard about bullets from a second weapon found at the scene, meaning Worrell was possibly killed by “friendly fire” as his friends shot at the suspected gang members attacking him.

Jimenez raised these claims in state court but ran into a dead end. Finally in 2019, he filed a federal habeas corpus petition in the Court. Calling the case against Jimenez “weak,” U.S. District Judge Paul Oetken said that state courts had applied “unreasonable” standards for evaluating undisclosed evidence and granted the petition in July 2022, vacating Jimenez’s conviction and ordering a new trial. After his release from prison in November 2022, the state dismissed the charges against him on April 10, 2023.

“Nothing can make up for 16 years of being locked up,” Jimenez said. “These jailhouse informants know how the system goes. They know how to work it.”

He is represented by attorneys from Kelner & Kelner in his suit against the city, DAO and former NYPD officers Wendell Stradford, Michael Serrano and Christopher Horn. See: Jimenez c. New York City, USDC (S.D.N.Y.), Case No. 1:23-cv-06751.


Additional source: Univ. of Mich. National Registry of Exonerations

Related legal case

Jimenez c. New York City