By SUSAN HAIGH Associated Press
A man who was freed in 2015 after spending a quarter-century in prison for an infamous tourist killing will receive nearly $18 million in legal settlements from the city and state of New York, his attorneys confirmed Friday.
Lawyers for Johnny Hincapie said it marks one of the largest settlements for a wrongful conviction in New York City history.
The Colombian-born Hincapie was among a group of young men accused of fatally stabbing Utah tourist Brian Watkins on a subway station platform in 1990. Eighteen years old at the time and with no criminal history, Hincapie said he was coerced to falsely confess to the notorious Labor Day crime.
Despite recanting his false confession, as well as other exculpatory evidence, Hincapie was convicted of felony murder and sentenced to 25 years-to-life in prison. He ultimately served 25 years, three months and eight days before his conviction was dropped.
In a statement released Friday, Hincapie said he hasn’t lost sight of what happened to Watkins that day, calling the man’s death “tragic.”
“I have never forgotten the loss his family suffered,” he said. “I am fortunate that my innocence has finally been acknowledged by my city and my state and I look forward to the next chapter of my life with my family.”
Attorney Gabriel P. Harvis, who represented Hincapie with fellow lawyer Baree N. Fett, credited Hincapie with pursuing his education while behind bars and for being a model inmate. Hincapie, who is now 50, earned his GED, associates, bachelor’s and master’s degrees while in prison.
“He really is the last victim in this case because it took so long for him to finally have his innocence recognized,” Harvis told The Associated Press. He said the large settlement is a recognition of his client’s “innocence and of his qualities as a person.”
Harvis has said previously that Hincapie “suffered severe emotional and mental anguish and pain as a result of being punished for crimes he did not commit.”
Hincapie is now living in Florida with his family and has two young children, Harvis said.
Under the settlements, the city will provide $12.8 million and the state $4.8 million. Nick Paolucci, spokesperson for the New York City Law Department, said in a written statement the settlement “resolves a longstanding civil case involving a horrific crime. Based on the findings of the DA (District Attorney) and our review, this agreement is fair and in the best interest of all parties.”