New York Post
February 18, 2000


THE TRUTH MUST SET HIM FREE

By STEVE DUNLEAVY

If the energy of lawyer Marvyn Kornberg could have been bottled yesterday, you could have abandoned gasoline to run your car.

"What did I tell you? What did I tell you? How was that for testimony?" he exploded.

"Volpe showed he was a perfect witness that could never be impeached by the government as a witness.

"And the worst part of it is that Chuck Schwarz could have been free three months ago and wouldn't be locked up now."

Justin Volpe had just stepped off the witness stand and in clear but dramatic testimony, confirmed what I have been saying for months.

And that is that Chuck Schwarz was nowhere near the bathroom in Brooklyn's 70th Precinct station house when Volpe shockingly assaulted Abner Louima.

Now let this sink in. We have an innocent man rotting in a steel cage in the Metropolitan Correctional Center for doing absolutely nothing wrong.

Kornberg, who represents Justin Volpe, was involved in a bitter, high- profile battle with Schwarz's former lawyer, Stephen Worth.

When Volpe confessed to Kornberg that he alone sodomized Louima with a stick, Kornberg pleaded with Worth to put Volpe on the stand to exonerate Schwarz. Worth declined, thinking Volpe would not be a credible witness.

"He showed he was every bit a credible witness. And the prosecution does not like it," Kornberg said.

Sitting in the second row of the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, Robert Volpe -- Justin's father, a veteran ex-cop -- watched as his son painfully articulated the details of that night.

"It took a lot of courage today to stand up there and tell the truth when people don't want to hear it," Robert Volpe said.

"The prosecution is trying to pound him all the more because he's not giving the version they want."

Justin Volpe fended off constant barrages by prosecutor Lauren Resnick, who tried to portray him as a weaver of serial lies.

He stuck to his story, remained unshaken and said of his last-minute admission of guilt: "I felt ugly and ashamed ... I was a 25-year-old kid who didn't want to go to jail ... I will tell you I got down on my knees and prayed I would not go to jail for life."

In an electric atmosphere of truth, lies and drama that has been a portrait of this sad affair, a bizarre touch was introduced when Justin Volpe walked into court -- a paler and thinner version of his former robust self.

He was wearing a blue prison T-shirt over a white T-shirt, dark-blue prison pants and slippers.

Judge Eugene Nickerson, 82, asked Justin's lawyer, Ron Fischetti: "Doesn't he have any courtroom clothes?"

Fischetti said Volpe has no clothes in prison and for half an hour Volpe disappeared while a blazer, shirt, tie and pants were rustled up.

His father, a 20-year veteran of the police force, said: "Isn't it strange that the judge who sent him to prison objects to the clothes that he put him in?"

Robert Volpe added: "That night, my son started out as a hero responding to that riot, became a victim when he was assaulted and then, in 30 seconds, lost it."

But as Justin Volpe laid out his litany of guilt, taking all the weight off the embattled Chuck Schwarz, Chuck's wife, Andra, managed a smile: "I just hope this makes a difference."

Well, not much of a difference in the immediate future, because he stands convicted of helping Volpe. He won't see freedom until the slow wheels of justice turn to his appeal.

Chuck's brother, John, paralyzed after a swimming-pool accident, was there in court in his wheelchair.

Also on wheels was hero cop Steve McDonald, paralyzed from the shoulders down after being plugged by a punk in Central Park. He was there for support. "This is very, very sad," he said.

It is sad when punk kids can shatter lives like Steve McDonald's. But in the case of Chuck Schwarz, it's a nickel-brained federal-court system that's keeping an innocent man in jail.

In God we trust -- but the court system is a bust.