Channel 7: WABC News

February 28, 2002

Federal Court Overturns Convictions In Louima Torture Case

First Reactions

Law Professor's Opinion

In a stunning reversal, a federal appeals court has overturned the convictions of three police officers in the Abner Louima torture case. The court ordered acquittals for 37 year-old Thomas Wiese, 34 year-old Thomas Bruder and 36 year-old Charles Schwarz on conspiracy charges in the case, and ordered a new trial for Schwarz on charges that he violated Louima's civil rights. Sarah Wallace begins our team coverage.

The 68-page decision by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals does not affect Justin Volpe, the former NYPD officer who plead guilty to sodomizing Abner Louima in 1997. The decision, however, is a huge blow to federal prosecutors who doggedly pursued various charges against three other former NYPD officers.

The victim of the worst case of police brutality in the nation's history, now lives far away from the scene of the horrific crime. Today, at his home in South Florida, Abner Louima had little to say.

Reporter: "Any thoughts about how they overturned the convictions? Did you expect it?

Abner Louima, Brutality Victim: "No... No comment at this time."

But there was plenty of comment elsewhere to the strongly-worded decision by the appeals court. First, the case against Charles Schwarz, who was originally tried with fellow officer Justin Volpe for conspiracy to deprive Abner Louima of his civil rights. Volpe eventually plead guilty to sodomizing Louima in a 70th precinct bathroom and was sentenced to 30 years. He has said that Schwarz was never there.

Marvyn Kornberg, Volpe's Attorney: "Nobody wanted to listen to him. He tried to do justice. He tried to free an innocent man and nobody would listen."

The court's decision blasts Steven Worth, Schwarz attorney for that trial, for ineffective counsel and conflict of interest, because his firm also represented the police union. In addition, the justices ruled that the jury had been exposed to prejudicial information during deliberations, including that Volpe had plead guilty. They threw out the federal civil rights conviction against Schwarz and ordered a new trial. The 36-year-old former cop is currently serving a 15-year sentence.

Ron Fischetti, Schwarz's Attorney: Basically, he said, 'Ron, I can't believe it. Thank you, you told me that you would do this two and a half years ago.' He said, 'I lost hope several times, but you never did. I just can't thank you enough."

Louima's attorney says he'll support whatever prosecutors decide.

Sanford Rubenstein, Louima's Attorney: "He has confidence in the system of justice that we have and that he abides by as a citizen, and we'll cooperate with the federal authorities with regards to a new trial."

Schwarz and two other former officers, Thomas Wiese and Thomas Bruder, were also convicted in a separate trial of obstruction of justice, covering up the crime. The court's decision threw out those convictions as well, and the justices took the unusual step of ordering the men's acquittal, meaning they cannot be retried. Wiese and Bruder, originally sentenced to five years for lying, had been free on bond pending appeal. Now, they're free for good.

Schwarz' wife is praying for the same for her husband.

Andra Schwarz, Charles Schwarz' Wife: "We're still in shock and trying to digest it all. We're just so thankful to everyone, thankful to God."

Schwarz' original attorney, Steven Worth, did not return our repeated phone calls Thursday. The US Attorney's office says it is in the process of preparing a statement, but a hearing for Schwarz is scheduled for March 7th, at which time the issue of bail will likely be raised.

Last July, the city and police union agreed to pay Louima and his lawyers $8.7 million dollars. The settlement was the largest ever in a police brutality case in New York City.