PATERSON — Two city men who have spent 24 years behind bars for the 1993 murder of a video store clerk will get new trials after DNA and other evidence raised questions about their guilt, a judge ruled Friday.
Eric Kelley and Ralph Lee say they made bogus confessions under pressure from police questioning them about the killing, a knifepoint robbery gone wrong. The pair quickly recanted but were found guilty at separate trials based in large part on those confessions.
Superior Court Judge Joseph Portelli on Friday overturned their convictions after two legal groups uncovered evidence contradicting the signed statements and performed DNA testing that pointed to another suspect.
The judge’s ruling renews concerns over how the Paterson Police Department handled their investigation into the death of the 22-year-old clerk, Tito Merino, decades ago. It also raises new questions about whether county prosecutors turned a blind eye to evidence suggesting the real killer walked away a free man.