Editor’s Note: This post was revised on 2/6 at 7:10 p.m.
NEW CASSEL, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — On Wednesday, Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said legal changes may have left the victim of a brutal attack at the hands of suspected MS-13 gang members exposed.
Ryder said a 36-year-old man was found bludgeoned to death Sunday night in the back of an abandoned New Cassel home, CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported.
“The system failed. The system failed. This man is dead,” Ryder said. “This law is not helping us.”
Ryder later issued the following statement: “As I indicated at my press conference, there is no direct link between the death of Wilmer Maldonado Rodriguez and criminal justice reform. The information and facts of the case that I provided are accurate.”
Police detailed the case of Wilmer Maldonado, a victim of a brutal gang assault in October 2018. Nine alleged members of MS-13 were arrested.
Maldonado stood ready to testify against them, but then, Nassau police said, a judge, abiding by new requirements, handed over previously concealed information on his identity to the defense.
Suddenly, they said a pattern of intimidation began. On Jan. 30, a witness was shot in New Cassel. On Feb. 1, Maldonado was beaten, but escaped. On Feb. 2, however, he was found beaten to death.
“We believe the information that was released, a victim’s information, which should have been protected, was turned over too early. And immediately after it was turned over, we saw the intimidation pattern start,” Ryder said. “Justice reform is not taking care of our victims.”
Witness and victim names are normally protected until trial, but since Albany changed discovery rules, police must now turn over that information to the defense in 15 days.
“Those common-sense reform decisions need to happen now,” Ryder said.
A spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, “The timeline … makes it very clear that these reforms had absolutely nothing to do with this case, because identifying information was turned over before the law took effect.”
Police said that’s not the case.
Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas also called for changes in the law and lauded Maldonado for his bravery.
“In October 2018, Wilmer Maldonado intervened when two boys were allegedly threatened by MS-13 members and he was senselessly attacked, struck with a bat in the head and suffered multiple stab wounds,” Singas said in a statement. “This courageous man was prepared to testify against his alleged assailants at an upcoming trial, but he was brutally beaten to death before he could. The prosecution protected this victim’s identity by obtaining a protective order in December 2018, but his identity was disclosed pursuant to a judge’s order in December 2019. This case underscores the importance of safeguarding the identities of witnesses and victims of crime and our hearts are with Mr. Maldonado’s family and friends as we grieve his loss. We will bring everyone associated with this horrific murder to justice.”
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said changes to the law must be made before another murder happens.
“I want to send my deepest condolences to the family of Wilmer Maldonado. This is a tragedy. I am calling on Albany to take corrective action to fix criminal justice reform immediately,” Curran said. “These new discovery requirements pose a threat to both the victims and witnesses of crimes. Nassau County has worked hard to build trust between law enforcement and the communities we serve, and this law now undercuts that trust. Our communities will be scared to report crimes or talk to law enforcement. We cannot let another murder happen because a witness may have been disclosed. Change this law now.”
Curran also issued another statement: “I appreciate the Commissioner’s clarification, and support every effort to protect witnesses and victims of crimes. Maintaining the safety and security of our communities is my highest priority.”
The Legal Aid Society of Nassau County, the Legal Aid Society of New York, Brooklyn Defender Services, the Bronx Defenders, the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Innocence Project and Citizen Action of New York released a joint statement:
“The tragic death of Mr. Maldonado is, unequivocally, not the result of the new discovery laws. It is extremely disturbing that law enforcement officials are exploiting this murder to try to discredit the discovery laws, which after decades of wrongful convictions have finally been amended to match those of the rest of the country. Under the pre-existing and current discovery laws, judges have a great deal of discretion and authority to order a variety of protective measures, including not disclosing witness information, not providing contact information for witnesses or any other remedy deemed appropriate. These statements by law enforcement are again another attempt to use lies and misrepresentations to create the illusion that the new laws are a danger to public safety.”
A spokesperson for New York State Courts said they are reviewing the minutes of recent court proceedings in the case to see exactly what transpired.