WCSU forum to feature Bermudez, exonerated after 18 years in prison
Attorneys experienced in wrongful imprisonment cases to participate in Sept. 22 program
DANBURY, CONN. — Fernando Bermudez, whose 1992 conviction for a New York City murder was overturned in 2009 in a case championed by the Innocence Project, will join two attorneys experienced in wrongful imprisonment appeals in a forum to be presented on Thursday, Sept. 22, at Western Connecticut State University.
Bermudez, currently pursuing studies to earn a bachelor’s degree at WCSU, will discuss “Innocent: Freedom after 18 Years in Prison” in a forum at 5:30 p.m. in the Student Center Theater on the university’s Midtown campus, 181 White St. in Danbury. Other participants in the program will include Mary Ann Di Bari, a key member of the legal team who counseled Bermudez during the lengthy appeals process culminating in his exoneration; and Sidney Manes, a leading practitioner of environmental law who also has extensive experience in wrongful imprisonment cases in a career spanning more than four decades.
WCSU sponsors for the program are the social sciences department, the Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, the Office of Academic Affairs and the Office of Student Affairs. Admission will be free and the public is invited; light refreshments will be served following the program.
After the failure of 10 previous appeals filed by Bermudez over 17 years seeking to overturn his conviction for the August 1991 shooting of Raymond Blount in New York City’s Greenwich Village area, New York State Supreme Court Justice John Cataldo ruled in November 2009 to dismiss murder charges on the grounds that the subsequent discrediting of key testimony and recantation of eyewitness identifications presented at the 1992 trial had left no credible evidence connecting Bermudez to the crime. “I find, by clear and convincing evidence, that Fernando Bermudez has demonstrated he is innocent of this crime,” Cataldo declared in his decision.
Bermudez’s case received national attention following publication in April 2007 of a New York Times report that explored allegations of wide-ranging deficiencies in the police investigation leading to the indictment and conviction of Bermudez for the murder of Blount, a 16-year-old slain in a street confrontation following an earlier fight in a Greenwich Village nightclub. Noting that five eyewitnesses to the shooting had recanted their positive identifications of the defendant in sworn statements signed one year after his conviction, New York Times writer Paul von Zielbauer observed that Bermudez’s appeals faced the formidable obstacle of overcoming a longstanding tradition in the American justice system to view recantations as untrustworthy.
The Bermudez appeal received significant support from the Innocence Project, an independent litigation and public policy organization that defines its mission as a dedication “to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.” Unlike the majority of successful wrongful imprisonment cases brought on the basis of DNA tests establishing innocence, Bermudez’s conviction was overturned without the support of exonerating DNA evidence. Scott Christianson, author of “Innocent: Inside Wrongful Conviction Cases,” observed at the time of the New York ruling that “the overwhelming number of wrongful convictions do not have the advantage of DNA evidence, so for this judge to assess all the evidence in the case and come to this decision is quite unusual.”
Bermudez, formerly a native of the Washington Heights area of Manhattan, now resides in Connecticut with his wife and three children while pursuing studies in behavioral science at Western. He has appeared frequently as a guest speaker at schools and colleges across the region including the University of Connecticut, Yale University, Cornell University and Columbia University. In sharing his experiences, he observed in a New York Daily News interview earlier this year, “my objective is to prevent another miscarriage of justice, to prevent what happened to me from happening to someone else.”
Di Bari, a graduate of Queens College and New York University who holds a law degree from Pace University School of Law, has observed that her commitment as an advocate for Bermudez throughout his lengthy legal process was inspired in part by her personal experience of investigative abuses during a KGB interrogation while she was pursuing studies in Russia. A native of Queens, Di Bari first entered the religious life before pursuing studies in law and opening a practice in Pound Ridge, N.Y. She has devoted many years to public service, including the founding of two protective organizations for children.
Manes, a Pennsylvania State University graduate who earned his law degree at Syracuse University College of Law, was an early pioneer in the practice of environmental law in Syracuse, N.Y., representing clients in federal and state courts and handling administrative law proceedings before the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A longtime member of county, state and federal bar associations, he is a leading authority on the National Environmental Policy Act and played an influential role in many environmental law decisions in New York courts.
Manes was honored in 2008 by the Federal Bar Association for 50 years of distinguished service, and in 2006 received the honorary title of “Empire State Counsel” from the New York State Bar Association in recognition of his extensive commitment of free legal services to individuals who could not afford representation. He also has served as a panel arbitrator for the American Arbitration Association and as a board member of the Manlius Greenspace Coalition.
Note for press organizations: For more information, contact Professor of Political Science Dr. Averell Manes at Manesa@wcsu.edu or (315) 869-0869.
Western Connecticut State University offers outstanding faculty in a range of quality academic programs. Our diverse university community provides students an enriching and supportive environment that takes advantage of the unique cultural offerings of Western Connecticut and New York. Our vision: To be an affordable public university with the characteristics of New England’s best small private universities.