You are reading

Fundraiser for Three Men Who Spent 24 Years Behind Bars After Being Wrongfully Convicted Reaches Over $40k

Left to Right: Rohan Bolt, George Bell and Gary Johnson Release from Green Haven Correctional Facility earlier this month. Photo Credit: Klaus Enrique

March 24, 2021 By Christina Santucci

A fundraiser set up to help three men who were wrongfully convicted of a 1996 double homicide and spent 24 years behind bars has raised more than $40,000.

The funds are being distributed among George Bell, Rohan Bolt and Gary Johnson who had been wrongfully convicted of killing Ira “Mike” Epstein and NYPD Officer Charles Davis during a botched robbery in Astoria on Dec. 21, 1996.

A Queens Supreme Court judge vacated their convictions on March 5, and Bell, Bolt and Johnson were later released from prison.

A GoFundMe was launched shortly after their release with the goal of raising $100,000.

The men were released after Judge Joseph Zayas found that the Queens District Attorney’s office and case prosecutors in the 1990s had deliberately withheld key information in the case that raised doubt as to their guilt.

The judge later filed his 29-page decision, which called the actions of one of the case’s prosecutors – Charles Testagrossa – “mind boggling.”

Judge Zayas wrote that, “Under no circumstances could the prosecutors in these cases have reasonably believed” that information pointing to other suspects did not have to be disclosed to attorneys for Bell, Bolt and Johnson.

“The Court, moreover, agrees with the parties that there is, at the very least, a reasonable possibility that, had this suppressed evidence been disclosed, the outcome of these trials would have been different,” Judge Zayas wrote.

Several days after the convictions were vacated, Testagrossa resigned from his job as the Nassau County District Attorney’s executive of the investigations division.

The other case prosecutor – Brad Leventhal – will no longer teach a class on evidence practice at St. John’s University Law School, the Queens Daily Eagle reported. Leventhal is the Homicide Bureau Chief at the Queens District Attorney’s office.

Meanwhile, Bell, Bolt and Johnson are doing well since their release, a member of Bell’s legal team said.

Anna Schwarz from the law firm Wachtell, Lipton Rosen & Katz has posted several updates about Bell, Bolt and Johnson on the GoFundMe.

“[Johnson] is spending today with his family, at a long awaited basketball watching party. He has been learning how to use FaceTime, and is already using it to talk to his mom,” she wrote.

Bell enjoyed his first Sunday at home with his loved ones, and Bolt spent time with his grandchildren.

“I wake up knowing there’s a burden lifted off of my shoulders,” Bell told CBS. “And it’s a beautiful feeling. And I know that it’s gonna be greater every day.”

On the fundraiser page, several people who had donated money penned messages wishing the men well. “My heart rejoices in their release,” one person said.

“They are humbled by the response they have received so far – but it isn’t over,” Schwarz wrote on the site.

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz has until June to decide whether she will retry Bell, Bolt and Johnson. A spokesperson for the DA’s office said earlier this week that the matter is being re-investigated and her decision would come following the conclusion of that investigation.

The men are scheduled to appear in court June 4.

email the author: news@queenspost.com
No comments yet

Leave a Comment
Reply to this Comment

All comments are subject to moderation before being posted.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Recent News

Cyclist sought for endangering the welfare of a child in Richmond Hill: NYPD

Police from the 102nd Precinct in Richmond Hill are looking for a cyclist who rode up alongside a 9-year-old girl and tried to engage her in conversation at around 8 a.m. on Thursday, June 13.

The encounter occurred in the vicinity of Jamaica Avenue and 104th Street while the youngster was walking to school. When the man asked the girl to join him on his bike, the girl sensed danger and took off, running to her school where she alerted authorities of the incident.

Ex-building inspector pleads guilty to official misconduct for accepting bribes from southeast Queens homeowners: DA

A College Point man pleaded guilty on Monday to taking bribes while working as an inspector for the city Department of Buildings (DOB) in exchange for not issuing violations from January 2023 through January 2024.

The city’s Department of Investigations conducted a probe after receiving allegations about Zabihullah Ibrahimi from homeowners and the DOB. The office of Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz prosecuted the case.

Richmond Hill man gets 4-12 years in prison for DWI collision that killed a city worker last year: DA

A Richmond Hill man was sentenced in Queens Supreme Court on Thursday to 4-12 years in prison for a drunken collision that killed a 36-year-old city worker during an early morning crash nearly a year ago.

Errick Persaud, 25, of 104th Street pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the second degree before Justice Michael Aloise on May 8. According to the charges, at approximately 2:30 a.m. on July 6, 2023, video surveillance footage showed Persaud behind the wheel of a black Mercedes-Benz speeding through a steady red light at the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Lefferts Boulevard in Richmond Hill.

Rapper Remy Ma’s son arrested with Queens Village man for 2021 murder of Astoria drug kingpin: NYPD

The son of hip-hop star Remy Ma was arrested Tuesday along with a Queens Village man for the murder of a reputed drug kingpin from Astoria just over three years ago.

The rapper’s 23-year-old son, Jayson Scott, of Tier Street on City Island in the Bronx, and Richard Swygert, 22, of Springfield Boulevard, were booked at the 113th Precinct in Jamaica on first-degree murder and related charges in the 2021 fatal shooting of 47-year-old Darius Guillebeaux on the afternoon of June 7, 2021.

Queens DSNY worker busted for allegedly filling his pool with water from a fire hydrant: NYPD

A Southeast Queens off-duty NYC Sanitation worker was arrested on Tuesday morning and booked at the 113th Precinct in Jamaica, where he was charged with theft of city services, according to the NYPD.

Rodolfo Jiminez, 41, was taken into custody just before 10:30 a.m. after he allegedly opened a fire hydrant on his street and then used a garden hose to run water to fill his backyard pool, police said, after a neighbor tipped off the cops.

Rep. Grace Meng delivers major funding boost to local preschool in Jamaica

Jun. 20, 2024 By Athena Dawson

U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-6) presented a check for $850,000 in federal funding to a local preschool in Jamaica on Tuesday, June 18. Meng was joined by parents, local government leaders, teachers, school board members and students at Queens Centers for Progress’ Apple Preschool for an early morning celebration. Apple Preschool provides specialized services to children with developmental disabilities to give them a positive learning environment and school experience.