By DOUGLAS MONTERO
Posted: 2:22 AM, September 10, 2012
NEW YORK, NY — Justice is blind, but that’s no help if you’re deaf.
A suspect in a Bronx murder is trying to get his videotaped confession tossed because he says he was misunderstood and confused by a sign-language interpreter.
Following a tip, cold-case investigators nabbed Gabriel Thompson, 48, in 2010 — 25 years after he allegedly stabbed and killed a man who was having an affair with Thompson’s live-in girlfriend.
Prosecutors say Thompson confessed to the murder, but he claims the cop who interpreted his answers during an interrogation ignored his request for a lawyer and misconstrued him.
Thompson says it was also not clear to him that the person asking questions during the session was actually a prosecutor trying to gather evidence to charge him with the murder of Miguel Lopez.
The DA’s case against Thompson may “fall apart” if Supreme Court Justice Margaret Clancy rules that jurors cannot view the videotaped confession, defense lawyer Arnold Kronick said.
The unusual pretrial drama opens a debate on the practice of using police officers trained in sign language as interpreters for deaf suspects.
Ralph Reiser, a disability-rights lawyer who has filed several federal lawsuits against the NYPD on behalf of the hearing impaired, insists cops and prosecutors are obligated to use “impartial” interpreters. “It’s a total conflict of interest and morally reprehensible,” he said.
According to Officer Julio Vasquez, who interpreted Thompson’s comments, the suspect admitted he confronted Lopez at 1013 E. 180th St. in August 1985 after learning he had contracted a sexually transmitted disease from his girlfriend, who was having an affair with Lopez.
He also claims, according to the interpretation, that Lopez suddenly reached behind his back, as if, he said, to grab a gun.
“So I defended myself,” Thompson said, according to Vasquez’s interpretation. “So I stabbed him once, one time, that’s it. And I saw him still alive and then I left.”
Vasquez later admitted at an evidence hearing that prior to the confession he didn’t tell the prosecutor that Thompson asked him, “Is the lawyer coming?” after some confusion over the Miranda warning.
When asked if he informed Thompson that Holtzman was seeking evidence to prosecute him for murder, Vasquez replied, “No.”
Both sides have since reviewed the video with their own sign-language interpreters, who each provided different transcripts to the court. No independent sign language expert has viewed the video.
Thompson refused the DA’s offer to plead guilty to first-degree manslaughter in exchange for 4 to 12 years behind bars. He faces 25 years to life if convicted of second-degree murder.
Source: New York Post