Manual Murder in Leather Town

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Murder in Leather Town

In the aftermath, Dinkins set about hiring what would amount to 6, new police officers triggering a downward trend in crime that subsequent mayor Rudy Giuliani continues to take credit for. Of the seven convicted men, one maintains to this day that he is innocent. He contends that he was beaten, lied to and coerced by detectives into admitting a minor role in the robbery with the promise that he would be let out of jail and driven home the next day if he cooperated.

Twenty years later, Johnny Hincapie, now 38, says he alone is unjustly paying the price for the murder that made New York safe. Having spent more than half his life in prison, Hincapie knows full well that when he comes up for parole in a few years, the last thing a parole board will want to hear is a claim of innocence.

The year began in a manner that grimly foreshadowed what was to follow. In an eight-hour period between p. Ten victims were shot to death, two were killed in vehicular homicides, and one man was beaten to death. As January wore on, the bodies began piling up. In Brooklyn a year-old boy was shot to death for refusing to return a high-five greeting from another teenager.

On the Upper East Side, a woman was crushed to death by a van whose driver had pulled up next to her to snatch her purse from his moving vehicle. The month ended on a particularly grisly note. The body of a year-old boy was found wrapped in several garbage bags in the woods near the Hutchinson River Parkway on Jan. The boy had been kidnapped the previous month on his way to school. February followed with one pointless homicide after another: drive-by shootings, the bias killing of a gay man in Staten Island and the fatal stabbing of a man in a Queens subway over a leather jacket.

Ironically, his exgirlfriend, who worked as a coat check clerk, was one of six people who escaped the Bronx fire. In late March the NYPD released statistics citing the previous year as setting the all-time record for homicides, 1, As spring turned to summer, several bloody patterns emerged. Throughout the summer, nearly a dozen children were killed by stray bullets. A total of 75 children under the age of 16 were killed in , 39 of them by gunshots. Throughout the year, police shot people, 41 of them fatally.

By the time September arrived, New Yorkers were fatigued and fed up. The members of the Watkins family were all avid tennis fans and came out east to see the U. Open, which, coincidentally, was a favorite pastime of Mayor Dinkins. After spending all day on Sunday, Sept.


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He told them about a spot in Greenwich Village and pointed them toward the subway station at 53rd Street and Seventh Avenue. Meanwhile, a train was making its way from Queens loaded with 40 or 50 teenagers heading toward the nightclub Roseland, located on West 52nd, for a night of dancing featuring a Latin DJ. Johnny Hincapie, an year-old from Bayside who was about to enter his final year of high school, was with several friends.

After the train arrived at Seventh Avenue, the whole group of approximately 50 people left the station and headed toward the club, while the smaller group lacking cash lagged behind and went back into the station. One jumped the turnstile and opened the exit gate, and the group ran down to the subway platform. At the moment the group was sneaking into the subway, Brian Watkins was buying tokens for his family. They went down to the platform and stood in a semicircle near the middle of the platform.

The mugging was fast and furious. Because of the way they were standing and the speed of the attack, each family member saw what happened from a different perspective. They all testified that they heard a loud commotion and then suddenly they were set upon. His front pocket was torn open and he sustained a deep wound near the top and back of his leg. When Brian saw this, he lunged toward her and was stabbed in the chest by Yull Gary Morales, who confessed to the crime but claimed Watkins lunged into his knife.

During a recent interview at Green Haven Correctional Facility, Morales hung his head and called the events of that night the worst decisions he ever made in his life. According to Hincapie, while all this was taking place, he was up on the sidewalk talking to two girls and waiting for a friend to emerge from the subway. He claims he had no knowledge of the plan to mug somebody and that he went down into the station to look for the friend, Anthony Nicholson, who Hincapie maintains was holding his money because he was wearing tight designer jeans with no hip pockets.

Hincapie says he ran from the station when he saw the group that had attacked the Watkinses running out.


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Nicholson had apparently left for Roseland with the initial group and was never charged. Brian ran after the group, unaware that his pulmonary artery was severed. He collapsed on the first landing near the token booth. The first police officers to arrive at the scene carried Watkins up the stairs to the street. He was then placed in an ambulance and driven to St. According to trial testimony, he died in the ambulance.

Two men who were drinking beer on the sidewalk near the subway entrance, a locksmith and a shoe shiner, came forward several hours after the attack and told police they had witnessed the group exit, re-enter, then run out of the subway station. They claimed they went down the stairs and saw Watkins.

Prominent suicides

The men said they got nervous and left. Detectives later took the two men to Roseland, and they walked through the club, pointing out two suspects. Other detectives brought the extremely distraught Watkins family from the hospital to a street near the nightclub, where they were asked to view suspects from inside a police car.

All the patrons were forced to exit the club through one door, and between identifications made by the family and the two witnesses, police detained approximately eight suspects for questioning, several of whom were released. Hincapie was not detained and questioned in that initial group. According to all testimony, they walked in without a warrant and started asking if Hincapie lived there and was at home. The detectives testified they struck up a conversation with a family friend who was standing in front of the house when they arrived, then followed him inside, assuming they were invited in because he held the door open when they followed him.

- The Washington Post

Hincapie was upstairs watching television. He came down as detectives were informing his mother that there had been a homicide in the subway the night before and they needed to ask Hincapie a few questions about it. She asked if he needed a lawyer, and one of the detectives asked her how old her son was.

Hincapie, his mother and others who were present said a detective grabbed Hincapie by the arm and led him to a car. The detectives all deny ever touching him and asserted he was not technically under arrest until several hours later. Hincapie was taken to the Midtown North police station and questioned by a series of detectives. According to him, one detective cursed at him, shoved him, slapped him and slammed his head into a desk, while another played good cop.

He said he was told that his best friend and later fellow co-defendant , Fernandez, had given up his name and was in another room telling detectives that Hincapie was involved in the crime and that the only way he was ever going to see his family again was by signing a confession. Otherwise he would face a murder charge and never see his family again.

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Hincapie was picked up by police at roughly p. By around midnight, he had broken down and agreed to sign a confession. Only then was he read his Miranda rights, according to the testimony of the detectives who took his statement. After signing a confession that was written out by detectives, he was videotaped confirming the details of the confession. Every detective who testified during their trials denied those allegations and described their conversations with the suspects with words like polite, cordial, and relaxed.

In March of this year, he left his job as police chief in Los Angeles and joined the private security consulting firm Altegrity Inc. My recollection of that case is that they did an outstanding job, and from my perspective, that was a very good piece of police work.