A Bronx man who spent more than a year on Rikers Island for a murder he did not commit says he was busted solely on the word of a witness looking to save his own skin.
Ivan Martinez, 25, might have been wrongly convicted if the witness, Woodrow Ward, did not recant, according to Joshua Moskovitz, Martinez’s attorney in a lawsuit against the NYPD.
“It was horrible being locked up for something I didn’t do,” Martinez said in a statement.
“There was no evidence I had anything to do with it, but I lost a year and a half of my life.”
The NYPD would not talk about how Detective Matthew Costello, who is named in the suit, conducted his investigation into the 2013 murder, which remains unsolved.
Costello, now retired, said through the detectives’ union he would not discuss the allegations.
A source familiar with the case said Costello and other detectives heard from different sources that Martinez was the shooter and that Ward confirmed that, picked him out of a lineup and repeated his story to the grand jury.
But Ward had a vested interest in accusing Martinez — he had just been busted for petty larceny and was told he would get a good plea deal and $2,000, presumably the Crime Stoppers payout, if he testified, according to the suit.
Martinez said he was playing video games at a friend’s house the night of May 24, 2013, when Dayson Sumpter, 28, was shot dead at West Burnside and Andrews Avenue in Morris Heights, during a marijuana-related confrontation with three men.
The suit contends Costello ignored two witnesses who identified the shooter as “Treezy.” But the source said Treezy was questioned and denied being involved.
It was not until December 2013, when Ward was arrested, that the case was “solved.”
Martinez would remain behind bars for more than 16 months, until May 2015.
But Eric Poulos, Martinez’s defense lawyer, said it was obvious the case was built on a lie.
The gunman in the video the Bronx DA’s office planned to use is short, stocky and muscular, Poulos said — not thin like both Martinez and Treezy.
Poulos also said that shortly after the prosecutor was transferred to another unit, the new prosecutor interviewed Ward.
According to court papers, Ward changed his story, saying he only heard gunfire and did not see Martinez shoot Sumpter. Held at Rikers in an unrelated robbery case, Ward, 24, refused to speak to The News.
Michael Palladino, head of the Detectives’ Endowment Association, said it’s not unusual for witnesses to change their stories.
“The witness in this case was obviously convincing enough… for a Bronx grand jury to indict,” he said.
Moskovitz, though, said police acted “egregiously” and that arrests and prosecutions based on one witness are far too common.
“This is not unusual, unfortunately,” he said.
Treezy, 24, whose real name is Dytrell Jackson, was shot dead May 20 of this year at Andrews Avenue and W. 176th Street.
Police said he was killed in retaliation for the Sumpter murder. Two men have been charged.
The DA said only that the case was dismissed because Ward recanted.