Thursday, September 26, 2002

 

Statement by District Attorney Richard A. Brown Regarding Setting Aside of Lazaro Burt Homicide Conviction

Thirty-year-old Lazaro Burt was convicted in 1994 of the shooting death of Wilfredo Cesareo, 28, of Corona and was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. The wife of the victim, Lissette Saillant, an eyewitness to her husband's fatal shooting, testified for the prosecution at Mr. Burt's trial and identified Mr. Burt as the assailant.

The murder took place at 12:10 a.m. at the corner of 105th Street and Northern Boulevard in Corona, Queens on August 20, 1992. The victim was killed as the result of a single gunshot to the stomach.

In the course of a re-investigation of the case by my office, which began in May 2002 as a result of information provided by the Suffolk County Police Department, we were able to locate a key witness, Carl Drummond, who told us that an individual he knew as "Shorty" was the actual killer. Mr. Drummond was advised that "Shorty" was in prison and was no threat to him or his family and he was persuaded by us to cooperate with prosecutors in our search for the truth.

On September 13, 2002 Mr. Drummond was convinced to come to the District Attorney's office where he picked out a photograph from a photo array of the individual he knew as "Shorty," and told prosecutors and detectives that "Shorty" was the individual he had seen shoot to death Wilfredo Cesareo.

Our office immediately thereupon notified Mr. Burt's attorneys of the results of our investigation, which included the fact that Ms. Saillant had acknowledged to investigators that her 1994 identification of Mr. Burt was mistaken, and made arrangements to have them file the necessary legal papers to petition the court for Mr. Burt's exoneration and release. The filing of those papers led to today's court proceeding in which the defense -- joined by the prosecution -- requested dismissal of the charges and the defendant's release from custody.

I want to express my appreciation to Executive Assistant District Attorney for Major Crimes Gregory L. Lasak, Assistant District Attorney Joshua Martin, Lieutenant Ted Wess of my office's Detective Bureau and Detective Michael McEntee of the New York City Police Department's Queens Homicide Squad and all of the prosecutors and detectives who assisted in this matter. I commend them for their diligence, dedication and commitment to justice. This case is but another reminder of the fact that the prime responsibility of a prosecutor is not simply to convict but rather to do justice.