Convictions overturned for three men in 1996 killings

A judge released George Bell, Gary Johnson, and Rohan Bolt on their own recognizance while prosecutors reexamine the case.

Three men in prison for the 1996 killings of two men, including an off-duty New York Police Department officer, had their convictions overturned Friday, because of information prosecutors should have turned over to their defense attorneys at trial but did not.

A judge released George Bell, Gary Johnson, and Rohan Bolt on their own recognizance while prosecutors reexamine the case.

The men had spent more than 20 years in prison following their convictions in the December 1996 deaths of Ira Epstein, owner of a check-cashing business, and Officer Charles Davis, who was working a sideline as security for the business at the time.

Queens County District Attorney Melinda Katz and defense attorneys had filed a motion to have the convictions overturned after an investigation found that an account from another man who implicated himself and his fellow gang members in the killings, as well as the mental health records of someone who implicated Bell, Johnson and Bolt, were not turned over to defense lawyers.

“Our office does not overturn convictions lightly, and this is a tragic case that has affected many lives,” Katz said in a statement. “But a fair and accurate trial depends on both prosecutors and defense attorneys knowing all of the evidence so that the jury can make an informed decision about the guilt or innocence of a defendant.”

Katz said her office would be reexamining the evidence to see whether the indictments against the men should be dropped.