When he succeeded the late District Attorney Ken Thompson last fall, Eric Gonzalez vowed to continue Thompson's agenda. Now he's fonce again fulfilling that promise, moving to clear a man who has long said his only crime was defying Brooklyn's Democratic bosses. Brooklyn reporter Jeanine Ramirez filed the following report.
It was a hallmark of Kenneth Thompson's too-brief run as Brooklyn district attorney: A robust convictions review unit, which exonerated 21 people wrongly prosecutoed and sentenced.
Now his hand-picked successor, Acting District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, will add to that list, moving to clear lawyer John O'Hara, who was convicted of voter fraud in a controversial prosecution 20 years ago.
"I was the first person ever to be tried three times," O'Hara told NY1. "It's a debilitating process, and then all the appeals that went on. It's been 20 years now. And when you have a felony conviction, you're officially a second-class citizen."
O'Hara was prosecuted on charges of using his girlfriend's address - 14 blocks from his own - to vote in 1996. He was said to be the first person convicted of illegal voting in New York since Susan B Anthony in 1872.
He always maintained that former DA Charles Hynes had it out for him, because O'Hara repeatedly ran for office against candidates backed by the Brooklyn Democratic machine.
"When you investigate somebody on their residency, it's an excuse to get into all of their personal records, their taxes, their checks, their credit card slips," O'Hara said.
After O'Hara's conviction, a judge fined him and ordered him to perform community service by picking up garbage and cleaning public toilets in city parks. He also was disbarred from practicing law.
He eventually got his law license back, in 2009, but the conviction remained. The case was so notorious, it came up in a debate during Thompson's campaign to unseat Hynes three years ago.
"I believe that what the appellate division said that the character and fitness division said that John O'Hara was a victim of a political hit by the machine carried out by this DA," Thompson said then.
Hynes always stood by the prosecution, although his office had to try the case three separate times beforee winning a conviction that would stick.
But after Thompson was elected in 2013, it was of the many controvetrsial convictions the district attorney's office moved to examine.
"About one year ago, former DA Thompson's conviction review unit turned over three boxes of materials to us which we have never seen before," O'Hara says.
Thompson died of cancer last fall before the review of OHara's conviction was completed. The evidence vindicating Ohara is expected to be presented in a Brooklyn court Thursday.