Copyright (c) 2002 The St. Thomas More Institute for Legal Research of St. John's University School of Law
The Catholic Lawyer
ARTICLE: MORALES V. PORTUONDO: HAS THE SEAL OF THE CONFESSIONAL SPRUNG A LEAK?
42 Catholic Law. 105
Jordan B. Woods*
On July 24, 2001 Jose Morales was released from jail by the order of federal district Judge Denny Chin. 1 Morales, as well as his friend Ruben Montalvo, had been convicted in 1989 for the brutal slaying of a young man, Jose Rivera. 2 Throughout their incarcerations, both men vigorously proclaimed their innocence and appealed their convictions numerous times. Finally, upon a second filing of a habeas corpus petition, Morales was able to convince Judge Chin that his due process rights had been violated and that he deserved to be a free man. Thereafter, Montalvo was also released, and Judge Chin has ordered the Bronx District Attorney not to retry their cases. 3
The granting of a habeas petition is in and of itself unusual. Of the 24,945 petitions filed in the federal courts in the year 2000, only a handful were granted. 4 The Morales case is all the more unusual because of the evidence Morales used to support his petition. His petition was supplemented with an affidavit from a Roman Catholic priest, Father Joseph Towle, who testified that another young man had both confessed to the Rivera murder and admitted that Morales and Montalvo were not even at the scene of the crime. Father Towle had learned this information after he met in private with this man, Jesus Fornes, shortly after Morales and Montalvo were convicted. At the conclusion of this meeting, Father Towle granted Fornes absolution for his sins. 5
The testimony ...
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