BUFFALO, NY – “It’s about justice, “said Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn, regarding the release of Buffalo man from prison who had served 12 years of a 20 year sentence for robbery.
Keyontay Ricks, now 34, was convicted of Robbery in the 1st Degree in connection with what Flynn says was not in fact, under the law, a robbery at all.
Flynn credited Ricks’ attorney Robert M. Goldstein, who was hired by Ricks’ family to review the case last year, with introducing new evidence in the case.
The evidence was compelling enough for a judge to rule that –had the evidence been presented at trial, Ricks might have been convicted of only a lesser charge of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property, for which he would have been sentenced to no more than 7 years.
In June of 2004 an employee of a Bailey Avenue Rent-A-Center, entrusted to take cash receipts from the store to the bank for deposit, claimed that he’d been robbed on his way to the bank.
New evidence shows that the alleged victim had actually handed the money off to someone who then gave it to Ricks who was waiting in a nearby car.
“This was all a set up…with the alleged victim in on it,” said Flynn.
The plot was apparently foiled because a person who saw what happened, alerted police, who apprehended Ricks and found him to be in possession of more than $3,000 of the stolen money.
Even though the employee who claimed to have been robbed never testified at Ricks’ trial, Ricks was convicted on largely circumstantial evidence and, as prior felon, given a sentence of 20 years in prison.
An appellate court later upheld the conviction.
However, last month, State Supreme Court Justice Christopher Burns ruled that Ricks was a victim of ineffective counsel, in part because his trial lawyer failed to call the alleged victim to the stand, and because the attorney did not act on information provided to him that the alleged victim was in on the plot.
“I don’t know why he did that,” said Flynn, who became District Attorney on January 1. “Perhaps he thought that without a victim to testify, his client wouldn’t get convicted.”
While denying a motion by Goldstein to have Ricks’ conviction of possessing stolen property overturned, the judge vacated the robbery conviction, and ordered Ricks’ release from prison, which Flynn did not oppose.
"He was not a totally innocent individual, but the fact of the matter is he was serving a sentence for a crime he did not do," said Flynn, while noting that Ricks didn’t forcibly take the money (which would constitute robbery) from the Rent-A-Center worker whose intent was to give it to him as part of a ruse.
According to Flynn, his office cannot bring charges against the Rent-A-Center worker, because the statute of limitations has expired on any crimes they might have committed in this case.