​1980 Park Slope Fire Suspects Cleared After Wrong Conviction

1980 Park Slope fire
Author: Kara GilmourBy:
Staff Reporter
Dec. 18, 2015

The 1980 Park Slope fire case took a turn this week after three men wrongly convicted can rest in peace. A judge cleared three men in the Park Slope arson case, including Raymond Mora, who died of a heart attack while in custody in 1989, and co-defendants William Vasquez and Amaury Villalobos, who spent 31 years behind bars, according to NY1.

Mora’s daughter, Eileen, stood before Judge Matthew Demic, who presided in the Park Slope case, holding a photo of her father as his name was cleared. “He can now rest in peace,” she said, after he was convicted in the 1980 arson fire.

1980 Park Slope fire case exonerated Raymond Mora, William Vasquez and Amaury Villalobos

1980 Park Slope fire case exonerated Raymond Mora, William Vasquez and Amaury Villalobos

In a dramatic scene in Brooklyn Supreme Court, Assistant District Attorney Mark Hale said the three men were wrongfully convicted more than three decades ago due to false testimony and a since-debunked investigation into how the blaze started.

The 1980 Park Slope fire case revealed a lot of corruption and false testimony after the case was revisited. “The record does not show that the defendants did anything to start a fire or acted together to start a fire — no evidence to show they were even present to start a fire,” said Hale, who serves in the Brooklyn district attorney’s Conviction Review Unit.

“The district attorney has no confidence in this case, no evidence of a crime. The people move to vacate the convictions of all three, and we lack evidence to retry any of these defendants.” Demic approved prosecutors’ call to toss the 1981 case. “The indictments are dismissed and sealed. God bless,” he said.

Vasquez, who cried during the proceeding, embraced Villalobos after the judge issued the order. Family members clapped. “Thank you all. Thank God I’m finally free,” Vasquez, 70, said afterward. He and Villalobos, 66, were released on parole in 2012.

“I thought I was going to be exonerated because I knew in my heart that I didn’t commit the crime. I kept saying, ‘Why am I here?'” Vasquez said.

The 34-year-old case against the trio fell apart when prosecutors learned that Hannah Quick, the owner of the Park Slope building that burned, gave numerous contradictory statements, including about how the fire started.

Quick was a convicted felon and police informant in 1980 who sold drugs out of the building where the fire occurred, Hale said. Before dying last year, she confessed to family members she’d lied to investigators, Hale said. Vasquez, who became blind behind bars due to glaucoma, didn’t hold a grudge.

Building set ablaze

“I don’t have bitterness. We all make mistakes; we all make mistakes. She made a mistake. Too bad what I had to pay with it. I lost my sight, but I still came out with a victory and go on with my life,” he said.

Prosecutors also learned the fire marshal who initially investigated the 1980 Park Slope fire case relied on antiquated notions of how fires start. “There was no trace of an accelerant,” Hale said, adding that the blaze could have been accidental. The three men are the 15th, 16th, and 17th people to have wrongful convictions overturned since Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson took office in 2014.

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