Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III is looking into the possibility that a man who pleaded guilty six years ago to a double murder on Buffalo’s West Side was wrongfully convicted.
Sedita said he became aware of the possibility about a week ago, when he learned that federal authorities were charging three other men with the murders of Nelson and Miguel Camacho in 2004.
Josue D. Ortiz, the man originally convicted in the killings, has spent the past six years in prison.
“We have requested that the federal authorities and the U.S. Attorney’s office turn over to us all information regarding their investigation and prosecution of this matter,” Sedita told The Buffalo News.
Questions about Ortiz’s role and the possibility that he was wrongfully convicted arose when a gang leader and two others were charged in those same killings this week.
Federal prosecutors have now accused 7th Street Gang leader Efrain “Cheko” Hidalgo, Misael “Bori” Montalvo and Brandon Jonas with killing the Camachos on the evening of Nov. 11, 2004 inside their Niagara Street apartment.
The defendants are accused of shooting Nelson, 36, and Miguel Camacho, 25, as part of a robbery attempt. All three, if convicted, could face the death penalty.
Sedita said he met Thursday with John R. Nuchereno, Ortiz’s defense lawyer, and promised him the DA’s office will investigate the possibility that his client is innocent.
“I have told Mr. Nuchereno that we will provide any and all information which tends to exonerate or tends to benefit Mr. Ortiz,” he said.
Sedita stopped well short of declaring Ortiz innocent of the murders and admitted he was perplexed by the fact that Ortiz accepted a plea deal in 2006.
“This was not a trial verdict,” he said. “Mr. Ortiz confessed to this crime and admitted under oath to committing this crime.”
The new federal indictment accuses Hidalgo, Montalvo and Jonas of murder but makes no mention of Ortiz.
Nuchereno, who declined to comment on the case this week, advised Ortiz not to take the plea deal in 2006 and told the judge in the case that his client had been “coached” by another inmate at the Erie County Holding Center.
When Ortiz later tried to withdraw his plea, Erie County Judge Michael L. D’Amico rejected his request and sentenced him to a maximum of 25 years in prison.
The charges against Hidalgo, Montalvo and Jonas also may fit with what family and friends suspect was a motive for the killings – robbery.
They told police about a rumor that Nelson Camacho had won $65,000 in the lottery when he had won only $200.
Neighbors also told police that they saw three people, not one, fleeing the scene after shots were fired.
Hidalgo, a leader of the 7th Street Gang, has been in custody since his arrest last year in Puerto Rico, where FBI agents believe he fled shortly after charges were filed against him in a different murder case.
FBI agents claim he and three others killed Eric Morrow, a 21-year old member of the rival 10th Street Gang, in 2009.