Who Cares If He Is Innocent?
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By Nedra James and Nicholas Zimmerman
The date is September 19, 1998. The time is approximately 2:30 a.m. Nicholas Zimmerman, a.k.a. “Puzz Pacino,” is ready to give Hempstead, Long Island the best show he possibly can. Immediately performing after him is the multi-platinum recording group, Soul 4 Real. Therefore, he is the “opening act,” and he must prove himself to the sold-out crowd. Puzz isn’t worried though, he’d opened up for A-List artists in the past (Total, Craig Mack, The Lost Boyz) so he knows how to handle himself in front of a crowd. However, this show might be the most important of his career. Label executives from MCA Records are in attendance, and depending on how well Puzz does tonight, a major record deal may be in the works. Not a problem; Puzz rips into his 30 minute set as if he was already a major artist. The Club Jam-Rock audience is pleased, and so are the on-looking executives.
The date is September 19, 1998. The time is approximately 3:00 a.m. Jatanya Belvanis (Puzz’s girlfriend) is having a heated discussion with Nakia Stubbs. Nakia, her best friend, Kariesha and her boyfriend Wilson decided to go to Jatanya’s house in Rosedale Queens to retrieve a Jeep Cherokee that Nakia had rented Jatanya earlier in the week. When the trio arrived at Jatanya’s house the Jeep wasn’t there and Jatanya informed Nakia “that her boyfriend had the Jeep.” At this point, Nakia became enraged and an argument ensued. Jatanya stated that the group “threatened to shoot up her house.” In response to this threat, Jatanya called Nandi Cooper for help, a friend of hers that lived close by. Minutes after Jatanya placed this call to Nandi three men emerged from the backyard of a nearby home and attacked Nakia. One of the men stood guard with a gun in hand, while the others searched Nakia for weapons. After the search, the man with the gun shouted “I should kill you” and then fired the gun in the air several times before all three men fled the scene. Jatanya, Kariesha, and Nakia’s boyfriend, Wilson, had already escaped the area at the sight of the three men, thus they weren’t able to identify anyone. However, Nakia alleged to have gotten a good look at the man with the gun and identified him as Nicholas Zimmerman a.k.a. “Puzz Pacino.” Nicholas was arrested two weeks later.
Nicholas proclaimed his innocence and refused to plead guilty to the charges and so he was forced to stand trial. At trial, Nakia testified to the above events, but admitted that she had “only seen Nicholas on two occasions prior to the above events and that was months earlier, for five minutes each time.” Nakia testified that when she was attacked “it was dark out, pitch black, and there wasn’t much light” which proved Nakia could have been mistaken in her identification of Nicholas. Finally, Nakia admitted that at the time of Nicholas’ trial, she was being prosecuted on unrelated charges of Bank Fraud, a Scheme to Defraud, Possession of Forged Documents, Forgery, etc . . . After Nakia testified it was time for the defense to put on their case.
Nicholas’ position at trial is that he could not have attacked Nakia at 3:00 a.m. on September 19, 1998, because he performed at Club Jam-Rock in Long Island at the exact same time and date. To prove his innocence, Nicholas attempted to call several alibi witnesses: Haron Wilson (Nicholas’ childhood friend, producer, and long-time manager), Theophulus Brown (the concert promoter of the event at Club Jam-Rock), Andre, Brian, and Chriss Dalyrymple (the brothers of the group Soul 4 Real).These witnesses were scheduled to testify that Nicholas performed at the Jam-Rock Nightclub on September 19, 1998, from 2:30 a.m. to 3:00 a.m.
In addition, Nicholas attempted to call Natascha Dockery (Jatanya’s neighbor) and Samuel Belnavis (Jatanya’s father). Both witnesses were present for the attack of Nakia, and identified the man with the gun, but stated that it was not Nicholas, and that Nicholas was not present when Nakia was attacked. Lastly, Nicholas attempted to introduce into evidence a performance contract and promotional flyers that verified that “Puzz Pacino was scheduled to perform at Club Jam-Rock on September 19, 1998, at 2:30 a.m.” Unfortunately, the jury members never heard any of this evidence.
In a very unusual and disturbing decision, Justice Rosengarten of the Queens County Supreme Court ruled that none of this evidence would be allowed into the trial because Nicholas’ lawyer, Brendan O’Meara, “forgot to put the witnesses name and addresses on the notice of alibi” (An alibi notice is a simple form that states the witness’ name, address, and what they plan to testify to).
Thus, because of this ruling, the jury was only allowed to hear Nakia’s testimony in which she implicated Nicholas. They were not allowed to hear Nicholas’ alibi defense. In the end, the jury
convicted Nicholas of Criminal Possession of a Weapon (even though no gun was recovered) and Judge Rosengarten sentenced Nicholas to an amazing eighteen (18) years in prison.
Although the above evidence may seem like something straight out of a movie, it isn’t. It’s the real life drama of Nicholas Willis Zimmerman a.k.a. “Puzz Pacino,” an aspiring rap artist from East New York, Brooklyn. Since 2001, Nicholas has pursued every avenue of appeal through the State appellate system, only to have every motion denied, most times without the Court even providing a decision. In denying Nicholas’ latest request for freedom, Judge Rosengarten stated “to be compelled to have to deal with Nicholas’ rambling, disjointed, and repetitious motions of innocence is burdensome, unending, and a waste of the taxpayer’s money.” More shockingly, Rosengarten wrote “Nicholas may hope for some relief from the 2nd Dept., Appellate Court, but any future motions filed (in Rosengarten’s court) will be swiftly and summarily denied.” Amazingly, Rosengarten made these statements even after Nakia filed an affidavit in his court admitting that she was coerced and threatened to identify Zimmerman at trial. “She (Assistant District Attorney, Leigh Bishop) told me that if I refused to cooperate, I would be arrested on a material witness order and held in jail until I testified,” Nakia said. In a two page affidavit Nakia continued, “I reluctantly testified at the trial
because the A.D.A. threatened to arrest me, even though I told them I was never absolutely certain that Nicholas Zimmerman attacked me.” Judge Rosengarten mocked Nakia’s affidavit as a “recent revelation” and called it “inherently unreliable.”
Several attorneys have taken an interest in Nicholas’ case and have agreed that he was wronged by the system. Attorney Richard M. Langone stated, “Nicholas’ case represents a plethora of constitutional violations,” while Attorney Samuel A. Abady said, “This case appears to be a miscarriage of justice.” Even talk show host and high profile attorney, Ron L. Kuby has publicly spoken about Nicholas’ case. “Nicholas’ trial Attorney (Brendan O’Meara) did such a terrible job handling his case, it’s just a very unfortunate situation,” Kuby said.
After years of fighting an uphill battle however, Nicholas’ case seems to have taken a turn for the better. In March, 2006, U.S. District Court Judge, Allyne R. Ross accepted Nicholas’ Habeas Corpus petition in which he details his innocence with the above mentioned evidence. Judge Ross is scheduled to make a decision soon in Nicholas’ case. Legal on-lookers hope and expect Ross to throw out Nicholas’ wrongful conviction or, at the very least, give him a new trial. “I’m only asking that Judge Ross do the right thing. I’ve spent sleepless nights researching the State and Federal law, trying to find case law that fits my situation perfectly. All the case law I found explicitly shows that everything Judge Rosengarten and A.D.A. Leigh Bishop did to me was wrong and unconstitutional. I’m only asking that Judge Ross follow that law.” (Nicholas 1-15-2007-press release)
In addition, Nicholas’ case was recently exposed to the public’s eye. My Side Of The Story / The Investigation / Part I is a book, interview, investigation and conspiracy all wrapped in one. The one thing it isn’t is boring. In the 500 page tell all book, Nicholas (reluctantly) discusses how he allegedly stole in excess of $600,000 from almost every major credit card company in America, to how he was accused of planning one of the biggest escape attempts that New York State has ever seen. (Oh yeah, he also details the real reason why Judge Rosengarten precluded his alibi defense). “He (Rosengarten) never wanted me to prove my innocence. He used an innocent jury to convict an innocent man, and he did so because he had a bias against me with respect to my previous forgery case,” Nicholas said.
The book has all the ingredients of a best-seller, and author Kendra Lyneigh Hughes does an outstanding job leading the investigation. “This is something that needed to be done, the public needed to know about this. Here is an innocent man, an obviously innocent man and the entire State appellate system refuses to even look into it. They won’t even investigate it,” Hughes said. My Side of the Story is packed with exhibits, affidavits, documents, and the original transcripts to Nicholas’ trial.
For now, Nicholas’ case is at a standstill until he raises enough money through the sales of the book to pay for an attorney. Because of the mishaps the previous attorney made, Nicholas is taking things slowly this time around. “I want to take some time and do my research before I hire another attorney. If I can raise enough money to hire an attorney and if I am granted a new trial, I want to make sure this new attorney knows what he is doing.”