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Former New York Prisoner Exonerated, Receives $2 Million Settlement

A man whose conviction was overturned after spending 10 years in prison has settled his wrongful conviction suit against the State of New York for $2 million.

Michael Clancy, 25, was working as an apprentice elevator mechanic when he was arrested for the March 30, 1997 murder of John Buono. Clancy was convicted in 1999 based on eyewitness testimony; there was no physical evidence tying him to Buono’s murder.

He was sentenced to 25 years to life. Even at sentencing, there was information that had not been presented at trial that a witness had identified another man as the shooter.

Buono was assassinated at a pizza shop as his friend, David “Scarface Dave” Prieto, was standing nearby. Prieto told police he was there but said he couldn’t identify the killer. Subsequently, Prieto was sent to prison for a parole violation and taken into federal custody following the completion of his state sentence.

Faced with the death penalty or the certainty of life in prison for racketeering, murder, distribution of narcotics and manufacturing of narcotics, Prieto agreed to cooperate with prosecutors as a protected federal witness.

In that capacity, he was required to provide information about all crimes he had participated in or witnessed. He informed an Assistant U.S. Attorney that he had witnessed Buono’s murder, that Andrew “Drew” DeJesus was the shooter, and that the wrong man had been convicted. Clancy’s attorney was advised of this information but Prieto refused to testify for Clancy at that time.

At his February 2002 sentencing hearing in federal court, Prieto told the judge that he proffered to the government that “the state prosecuted the wrong guy” in Buono’s murder. For his “invaluable cooperation and credible testimony,” Prieto was sentenced to 15 years for his federal crimes.

It was not until September 2007 that Prieto testified in state court concerning the specifics of what he had witnessed with respect to Buono’s murder. He made it clear that the federal prosecutor had not given him permission to testify or talk about the case until he had completed his cooperation with federal authorities.

Prieto’s testimony detailed a life of crime and familiarity with everyone involved or suspected with Buono’s murder. Buono was Prieto’s life-long friend, and Clancy was someone they knew in the Bronx who ran in different, more law-abiding circles. DeJesus was a “wanna-be tough guy” who had run-ins with Prieto, and the “hit” was actually meant for Prieto. At the hearing Prieto clearly identified DeJesus as the shooter, and parts of his testimony were corroborated by the witness testimony at Clancy’s trial.

The state court ruled on April 1, 2008 that Prieto’s testimony was “of such force and probative persuasiveness” that it would have probably resulted in a more favorable verdict for Clancy. The court granted Clancy a new trial and bail, and the state attorney dropped the charges against him in February 2009.

More than 3½ years later, on September 26, 2012, the state issued Clancy a check for $2 million to settle his lawsuit filed under the state’s Unjust Conviction and Imprisonment Act. “For Michael, it’s the final exoneration,” said his attorney, Ronald L. Kuby. “It means the end of a very long ordeal.”

Clancy said he was glad the case was over and in his past. He looked forward to returning the love and support his parents had shown him throughout his incarceration. “They squandered a lot of their retirement money on my legal bills,” he stated. “It’s only right that I give them the retirement they deserve. I’m still going to be working. This is a nice amount of money. It relieves the financial pressure, but it’s not something where I could say, hey, I don’t need to work.” See: Clancy v. State of New York, New York Court of Claims, Claim No. 117154.

DeJesus has since been arrested and charged in connection with Buono’s

Additional sources: New York Times,

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Related legal case

Clancy v. State of New York