BUFFALO, NY - A man recently released from prison after a judge ruled he'd been wrongly convicted of robbery says that while he's relieved to be out from behind bars, he will not rest until he is exonerated of all other charges in connection with his case.
Keyontay Ricks, 34, served 12 years of a 20 year sentence for Robbery and Criminal Possession of Stolen Property before State Supreme Court Justice Christopher Burns ordered his release from prison last month.
Ricks was released from the Groveland Correctional Facility on February 3.
The office of current District Attorney John J. Flynn did not oppose the release, and according to Flynn, worked with Ricks’ present day lawyer, Robert Goldstein, to ensure his client’s release.
“This was all about justice,” Flynn told WGRZ-TV. “The fact of the matter is he was serving a sentence for a crime he did not do."
In June 2004 an employee of a Bailey Avenue Rent-A-Center, entrusted to take cash receipts from the store for deposit, claimed that he'd been robbed on his way to the bank.
In truth he handed the money off to a teenager, Kurtell Walker (to whom the man owed money) who then jumped into a car with Ricks and two other women, all headed to an outing at Darien Lake.
“It was my birthday, and we were going back to Amherst to pick up my young daughter before going to Darien Lake when this occurred,” Ricks recalled.
A person who saw Walker run to the car called police with their suspicions that a robbery had occurred, and the car was stopped by an Amherst Police officer who Ricks claims had harassed him on prior occasions because he objected to Ricks, who is black, having a white girlfriend.
“The officer was a racist who fabricated evidence,” Ricks said.
Even though neither the employee who claimed to have been robbed, nor Walker ever testified at Ricks’ trial, and even though Walker eventually told a court that Ricks was innocent, Ricks was convicted by a jury on largely circumstantial evidence and, as prior felon, was given a sentence of 20 years in prison.
“The jury believed it. They believed that if some guy was on parole then he must be a criminal,” Ricks said.
The robbery charge mystifies Flynn, who only became DA on January 1.
Flynn notes not only was there no evidence that Ricks forcibly stole any property, but that no property was forcibly taken by anyone, because Walker and the Rent-A-Center employee were in on what basically amounted to a ruse.
“There were so many stories that came into play, that I think jury got confused,” said Goldstein.
Ricks said he never gave up trying to have his conviction overturned, even after an appellate court denied is appeal following his conviction.
“For 12 years I did not rest…I fought this every year over, and over, and over, and over, "Ricks said.
“I think what finally happened is that we got statements from everyone that was present in writing, and were able to put it into a format that everyone could follow," said Goldstein.
While Justice Burns vacated Ricks’ Robbery conviction, he did not overturn his conviction for Criminal Possession of Stolen Property.
However, the judge ordered Ricks to be released because the maximum sentence Ricks could have gotten for that crime was 7 years, and Ricks had already served 12.
Despite being free, Ricks is still fighting for his innocence, because he maintains the evidence proved he never possessed the money either.
“Justice to me would be to dismiss all of the charges (including) the possession of stolen property as the law of evidence mandates,” he said.
“As far as we're concerned we got half a loaf,” said Goldstein. “And we want the full loaf because he is totally innocent."
Goldstein confirmed that Ricks may also file civil charges in connection with his case.
"If we can establish that there's wrongful imprisonment, then we do plan to bring suit,” Goldstein said.
Knowing that he would get out of prison one day, Ricks says he spent h time behind bars working to improve himself and his future prospects in anticipation for his eventual release, in part by studying law.
He says he even obtained a paralegal research certificate, which he may seek to use to help others wrongly convicted.