Man Released after Awaiting Trial for 17 Months in Triple Homicide
NEW YORK (AP) _ A state judge citing inconclusive evidence set a career criminal free after the 62-year-old man spent 17 months in jail awaiting a trial on triple murder charges.
″Good luck,″ Justice John Leahy told William Gergel as he ordered Gergel’s immediate release on his own recognizance Monday. ″Stay out of trouble.″
Assistant District Attorney James Quinn had recommended the release although he was not prepared to dismiss the indictment against Gergel. Prosecutors need two more months to complete their investigation into the case, he said.
″The evidence against Gergel and another reported suspect is still too inconclusive to require that Gergel remain in jail,″ said Dick Piperno, a spokesman for Queens District Attorney John Santucci.
Under state law, there is no deadline for bringing murder defendants to trial.
Gergel, who has a record of convictions ranging from larceny to murder and has spent more than 25 years in jail for crimes from the 1940s to 1970s, was arrested shortly after the June 1987 killings of three people during a liquor store robbery.
Police said Gergel matched a vague description compiled from interviews with witnesses. But another man, Lawrence Condon, also 62 and with a long criminal record, emerged as a suspect much later, after Gergel was already in jail.
Condon, who has not been charged in the triple murder, is currently serving time in Attica state prison on a weapons conviction in a separate case. He and Gergel have denied committing the liquor store robbery and killings, in which the victims were a couple in their 60s who owned the store and a 35-year-old customer.
″In my opinion, it’s too little, too late,″ Gergel’s attorney, Marvyn Kornberg, said of his client’s release. ″They should have done this a long time ago. The (district attorney’s) office should not take 18 months to investigate a case that the police screwed up.″
Gergel, thin with long gray hair, left the courtroom and kissed his tearful wife, Judith, then met a sister he had not seen in 11 years - and who had thought he was dead until seeing his picture in a newspaper a few weeks ago.
″It’s been so wrong from the beginning,″ Gergel said of his arrest in the triple murder. ″I’m not mad at the district attorney, but at the police at the 110th Precinct.″
Kornberg said Gergel plans to try to find a job.