July 27, 2001
'WRONG MAN' FREED
By JESSIE GRAHAM, DENISE BUFFA and DEVLIN BARRETT
Ruben Montalvo - wrongfully jailed more than 12 years for murder - leaves
court a free man yesterday with mom Maria (right) and his sister. The real
killer had confessed to a Bronx priest...............Matthew McDermott
July 27, 2001 -- A federal judge blasted prosecutors yesterday for trying
to keep a wrongly convicted man behind bars - then freed him after he'd
served more than 12 years in prison for murder.
Ruben Montalvo, 30, wept as Manhattan federal Judge Denny Chin ripped the
Bronx DA's office for trying to keep Montalvo and another man, Jose
Morales, imprisoned for a crime they did not commit.
"I would urge the [Bronx DA's] office to give this a good hard look instead
of worrying about protecting a conviction," Chin chastised them from the
bench. "Consider dropping the matter entirely."
Montalvo was freed after the Rev. Joseph Towle testified that another youth
confessed to the 1987 murder. The priest had kept silent for years, finally
coming forward after the real killer was shot to death in Harlem a few
Chin freed Morales two days earlier, and worked quickly to spring Montalvo.
"I just feel excited," Montalvo said. "I'm delighted to finally be free and
be with my family."
Minutes after walking out of court, he was reunited with his family in a
courthouse hallroom, holding his crying mother for several minutes.
"I didn't know this was going to happen today," said Montalvo, who was
whisked from an upstate prison for an emergency hearing before Chin.
"Right now I just want to pick up my daughter and my little niece and
nephew and I want to spend the night with them," Montalvo said.
As the verdict was read, Montalvo said, "I was in total shock.
"I kind of expected it but I wasn't fully sure," he said.
Chin excoriated the Bronx district attorney's office for fighting to keep
Montalvo and Morales in prison even after the priest testified in court
that Jesus Fornes confessed to the crime and cleared the two others back in
"I have not yet heard any semblance of a reasonable answer why Jesus Fornes
would lie," the exasperated Chin told prosecutors.
"This case . . . is an extraordinary case," Chin said in a five-minute
sermon from the bench. "It's provided vivid examples of human frailty and
"As I sit here today, I do believe that two innocent men have been
imprisoned for [almost] 13 years," he said. "One has to ask how could
something like that happen."
The judge laid most of the blame with prosecutors, but also noted that he
had previously denied two of Morales' earlier appeals.
"I think that there's a lot to be learned from this," he said. "Mr.
Montalvo, good luck to you, go home to your family."
With that, the weeping Montalvo was released on bail while his appeals
continue through the courts.
Steve Reed, a spokesman for Bronx DA Robert Johnson, said last night that
they would still try to win their case and put both men back in prison.
"It's before the [Court of Appeals] and we're awaiting their decision,"