Bladimil Arroyo has woken up inside an upstate prison cell for 18 years after being sentenced to 20 years-to-life for the September 2001 botched robbery of Gabor Muronvi and another man near a Sunset Park strip club. On Friday, Arroyo, 39, left Franklin Correctional Facility in Malone, New York, and was transported over six hours south to Justice Matthew D’Emic’s courtroom in downtown Brooklyn, where prosecutors agreed to toss his murder conviction after finding that it occurred under false pretenses.
Arroyo is the 25th person whose case was overturned by the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office Conviction Review Unit (CRU) since it was revived in 2014 by the late Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson — he passed away in 2016.
The CRU's work has been considered a national model for other prosecution offices and has about 100 cases pending review. To date, there are close to 2,400 overturned convictions reported across the country, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.
Unlike the other two dozen cases that were tossed, the office — led by District Attorney Eric Gonzalez — released a 43-page report detailing the CRU's investigation and recommendations based on the findings in Arroyo's case, according to a press release issued by the prosecutor's office.
The investigation found that Arroyo did not receive a fair trial because the only evidence against him was his own confession, which included a "false fact" likely communicated to him by the arresting officer, Michael Monteverde, and that certain detective notes were not disclosed to the defense attorney, according to the report.
Monteverde was incorrectly informed that Muronvi was stabbed to death during the attempted robbery, according to the report. It said that this "false fact" was believed to be true at the time and that Arroyo was told as much during interrogations, which led to his false confession — that he tried to rob the two men and stabbed Muronvi "in the upper chest" during a struggle. The day after Arroyo made the incriminating statements and was charged for Muronvi's murder, the medical examiner reported that the cause of death was a single gunshot wound to the chest, not a stabbing.
Those facts were unbeknownst to Arroyo's defense attorney and the case proceeded to trial with the false confession in tow.
The CRU also found that because the crime happened a few days after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the usual processes of obtaining police reports were disrupted and documents were received "late and piecemeal," the report said. The investigation could not ascertain when, if at all, the non-disclosed items were received.
Nonetheless, the trial prosecutor, who is not named in the report, suggested to the jury during the 2002 trial that Arroyo confessed to using a knife in an attempt to minimize his culpability in the fatal shooting, the report said.
Muronvi's friend Cary Greene, who survived the attack and initially told police there were three assailants, testified that there were only two. Greene did not identify Arroyo at the trial or in the police line up.
Arroyo was convicted of murder, two counts of attempted and assault and sentenced to 20 years to life. His co-defendant, Eddie Lorenzo, pleaded guilty to attempted robbery and was sentenced to nine years in prison, the report said.
Gonzalez said that while it's unclear if Arroyo is completely innocent, the office could not stand by the conviction or retry him.
Arroyo left Brooklyn Supreme Court alongside his mother with a smile on his face. His attorney, David Cetron, told reporters after the judge dismissed the case that Arroyo is a "talented artist" and is happy to go home.
Going forward, Gonzalez said that he is "confident that policy changes that have been made over the ensuing years and additional recommendations by the CRU will ensure that these mistakes are not repeated."
Some of the recommendations include recording video of interrogations and statements, training all prosecutors on confirmation bias and improving discovery practices, which were not subject to a uniform protocol when this case was tried.