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Wrongfully Convicted Man Can Sue Officers

A New Jersey man who was wrongfully convicted of the 1985 murders of two children under his care can sue the police officers who he says fabricated a confession that led to his conviction, a federal appeal court has ruled.

In a strongly worded opinion released Thursday, U.S. 3rd Circuit Judge Morton Greenberg, writing for the Philadelphia-based three-judge appeals panel, called the facts of the case “hardly believable.”

“Except when an innocent defendant is executed, we hardly can conceive of a worse miscarriage of justice,” Greenberg wrote.

The ruling overturns a lower-court decision from 2013 that threw out Halsey’s suit against the police officers, in part because they were found to have immunity from certain civil suits.

The case goes back to a horrific crime in 1985, when 7-year-old Tina Urquhart was found raped and strangled in the basement of a Plainfield rooming house and her 8-year-old brother was found dead with nails hammered into his skull with a brick. The children lived with their mother and Halsey, who quickly became a suspect.

He contends he was told a polygraph showed him lying when he was questioned about the case, even though it hadn’t. He also says police got him to sign a false confession.

A jury convicted Halsey in 1988 and he was sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years, but he was spared the death penalty.

He was freed in 2007 after DNA evidence showed he did not commit the crime. The same evidence linked another man who lived in the building, Clifton Hall, to the murders. Hall was charged but died in jail in 2009 before he could be tried.

After he was freed, Halsey sued for damages. The only remaining defendants in the case are Raymond Lynch, who ran the major crimes unit at the Union County Prosecutors’ Office, and Frank Pfeiffer, who was a Plainfield police officer.

Thursday’s ruling sends the case back to the U.S. District Court, where a judge threw it out last year.

The 3rd Circuit accepts Halsey’s argument that a prosecutor would not have pushed the original charges if not for a false confession. But lawyers for Pfeiffer dispute that the confession was ill-gotten.

“It wasn’t made up,” one of the lawyers, Michael Simitz, said Friday. “He did so for whatever reason, whether he was involved somehow, whether he felt bad for his gross negligence that he left the children.”

Edward Kologi, another lawyer for Pfeiffer, said it is not decided yet whether his client, who is being indemnified by Plainfield, will enter settlement talks.

A lawyer for Lynch did not immediately return a call.

 

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed)

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