24-Year-Old Has Spent Nearly A Third Of His Life In Prison, Without Trial

Photo: Bebeto Matthews/AP Photo.
Seven years after Carlos Montero was arrested for allegedly participating in a murder, he still has not seen a trial. The New York Post reports that Montero is poised to become the longest-serving New York prisoner awaiting trial.

“I’m depressed in here. I just want to go home,’’ Carlos Montero told the Post.

Montero went to jail at Rikers Island at 17 after he and two friends — Jairo Peralta and Diangelo Enriquez — allegedly mugged a man named Brian Maldonado in Washington Heights. Afterwards, Peralta stabbed Maldonado to death while Enriquez took a knife to another man. Though witnesses placed Montero at the scene, the now 24-year-old inmate claims he wasn't there.

According to New York statute, prosecutors are supposed to be ready to try most felonies six months after the time of arraignment. However, class A felonies — like murder — have no statute of limitations for prosecution. This is why prisoners like Montero can spend so long awaiting trial, costing taxpayers millions of dollars and leading to tragedies like the recent suicide of 22-year-old Kalief Browder.

The United States Constitution's Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to a trial without unnecessary delay, but does not define unnecessary.

“The right to be ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is a foundational principle of the American justice system and is essential to who we are as a people,” said New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “What is happening to Carlos Montero shocks the conscience and exposes all of the ways the criminal justice system is broken.”

To date, Montero has appeared at the Manhattan Supreme Court 77 times (these are pre-trial hearings). Though he's dejected, he isn't backing down on his claim of innocence. "I don't have the heart to kill someone," he said, and revealed that he rejected a plea deal offering him 15 years in prison instead of a trial.

Though the Post reports that detailed records of pre-trial incarceration times are not kept, well-known civil rights lawyer Ron Kuby called Montero's situation "gold-medal winning when it comes to delay," and "a very clear constitutional violation." He and other lawyers believe that Montero may break the record for the amount of time a New York prisoner has spent awaiting trial.


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