- Associated Press - Friday, August 8, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - A man imprisoned for nearly a quarter-century in an infamous tourist killing will get a new hearing on his claim of innocence in a case that was seen as an emblem of random urban violence, a judge said Friday.

Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Eduardo Padro agreed to hear evidence that Johnny Hincapie hopes will clear him in the 1990 death of Brian Watkins, a Utah man who was stabbed to death while defending his mother from a subway-platform mugging. The hearing will likely be in September.

“We’re very excited,” said Hincapie’s father, Carlos. “I thank God, and I thank the system.”

The Manhattan district attorney’s office declined to comment. Prosecutors have said there’s “no credible newly discovered evidence”; Hincapie’s lawyers say there is, principally a statement from an exonerated co-defendant saying that Hincapie played no part in the attack.

“We’re confident that when all the evidence is presented, Johnny Hincapie will be able to demonstrate his actual innocence in a horrific crime,” said his lawyer, Ron Kuby.

Watkins, 22, of Provo, Utah, and his family were in town to watch the U.S. Open tennis tournament when they were jumped by a group of youths looking to rob people to get money to go to a nearby dance hall, police said. After his father was slashed and robbed of $200 and his mother was punched and kicked, Watkins was stabbed in the chest yet chased the attackers up two stairways before collapsing under a turnstile.

His death followed a summer spate of violence and helped prompt then-Mayor David Dinkins to propose a program designed to increase police protection.

Hincapie (whose last name is pronounced hihn-CAHP’-ee-ay), was among eight young men who were arrested in the case; charges were dropped against one. Hincapie wasn’t accused of actually stabbing Watkins, but authorities said the whole group bore responsibility for his death. Hincapie, now 42, was convicted of murder and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

Hincapie, who has unsuccessfully challenged his conviction before, confessed after his arrest to participating in the robbery. He says police coerced his admission and that he actually wasn’t on the subway platform during the crime.

Prosecutors say those assertions aren’t believable.

Overturning Hincapie’s conviction “would require strong evidence. … He is not even close,” Assistant District Attorneys Eugene Hurley III and William Darrow wrote in a May court filing.


Reach Jennifer Peltz on Twitter @ jennpeltz.

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