The story of five men who were falsely convicted and sentenced to 25 years to life in mid-1995 for the January 1995 murder of Bronx cabbie Baithe Diop is told in NBC’s “Dateline: In the Shadow of Justice: A Bronx Tale.” The episode focuses on the mishandled investigation, the fabricated testimony of the witnesses, and the individuals’ nearly two-decade battle to overturn their convictions.
How Did Baithe Diop Die?
In 1995, Baithe Diop, a 43-year-old immigrant from Senegal, was employed at New Harlem Car Service in New York City. On January 19, 1995, he left his last pickup at West 141st Street in Harlem at around 4:30 am and travelled to the Bronx, where he was murdered and robbed. His 1988 Lincoln rolled down Soundview in the Bronx, not stopping until it struck a trash hauling bin. He was shot twice in his livery taxi and left to die. At the time of Baithe’s death, there were over 70 attacks on taxi drivers in the city in 1993 and 1994.
Reports state that Baithe’s murder was connected to the death of Denise Raymond, a recruiter for Federal Express. The officers went to her Soundview flat after her worried relatives reported that she had not turned up for work to the New York Police Department. The 38-year-old was discovered on the ground with two bullet holes in her head, her wrists bound with handcuffs, and her mouth taped shut with a sock. Around a block away from Denise’s house, Baithe passed away.
Jose Rodriguez and Gilbert Vega: True Killers of Baithe Diop
The ensuing police inquiry would establish a connection between the two homicides and bring together an astounding cast of suspects and witnesses. Two important witnesses were located by the investigators: Catherine Gomez, 16, and Miriam Tavares, an alleged drug user. Catherine told the cops that she had overheard three other men and Devon Ayers plotting Denise’s murder, and that she had also heard them bragging about it afterwards.
From her bathroom window, Miriam, the other witness, reported to the police that she had seen and heard the killers. She said that following the incident, she saw five individuals get out of Baithe’s car. The authorities accused Devon, then 18 years old, Michael Cosme, then 19 years old, Carlos Perez, then 25 years old, and Israel Vasquez, then 17 years old, of killing Denise at the request of her ex-boyfriend, Charles McKinnon, based on the testimony of the two women. According to police sources, the Federal Express recruiter was killed because she rejected Charles’s advances for them to be back together.
Charles was accused of plotting Denise’s murder with the other four. Along with identifying the four men charged with Denise’s murder, Miriam also recognised two other guys who were escaping Baithe’s car: Eric Glisson, who was 18 at the time, and Cathy Watkins, who was 27. Police discovered throughout their investigation that Baithe was killed during an attempted robbery at 30 W. 141st Street, where he had been sent. The investigators requested Cathy, who lived in the building, to come into the police station.
The detectives asked her to answer a phone and pretend she was ordering a car to pick her up while she was at the precinct. She had no idea that the authorities had also detained the dispatcher who had answered the call that led to the death of the taxi driver and directed him to the home on 141st Street. She recognised Cathy as the caller as soon as she heard her voice on the line coming from a different area of the station. Cathy maintained her innocence and said she didn’t know any of the other defendants, but she was nevertheless charged with killing Baithe.
In March 1997, Devon, Michael, Carlos, and Israel were put on trial for Denise and Baithe’s murders. They were found guilty of the two killings, and on March 5, 1997, they were each given a sentence ranging from 25 years to life in prison, to be served consecutively. Israel was found guilty of killing Denise but found not guilty of killing Baithe. But later on, an appeals court overturned the conviction on the grounds that there wasn’t enough proof of guilt. In September 1997, Eric and Cathy were put on separate trials for the murder of Baithe.
Despite Miriam’s contradictory testimony that she witnessed the gunshot from a window where it was difficult to watch the crime, they were found guilty based on the testimony of Catherine, the car service dispatcher, and Miriam. She named the shooter as Eric. After being found guilty of second-degree murder, Eric and Cathy received sentences ranging from 25 years to life in jail. But things started to change in 2003 when federal agents started looking into Sex Money and Murder (SMM), a Bronx drug organisation.
Two former SMM members who were assisting with the inquiry, Jose Rodriguez and Gilbert Vega, were in communication with the primary investigator, John O’Malley. In their own words, both guys said they had robbed a livery driver in the Bronx in late 1994 or early 1995. They admitted that they had shot the driver and run away, not knowing if he had died or lived. Because John O’Malley was unaware of Baithe’s murder, he was unable to make the connection, but Eric, who was spending his time at Sing Sing jail, was able to.
In May 2012, he wrote to federal prosecutors in New York, claiming to have heard that members of the SMM gang were responsible for Baithe’s death. After speaking with Jose and Gilbert, the Bronx prosecutors were persuaded that the five convicted men were innocent. They all agreed that the convictions of the five should be overturned for the killing of the cab driver. On October 13, 2012, the accusations against Eric and Cathy were dropped. They were freed from prison on bond.
On December 12, 2012, the accusations against the remaining three convicts were likewise dropped, however they were still imprisoned for the murder of Denise. In 2014, the five convicted individuals filed federal civil rights cases. The cases were reportedly resolved in April 2016 for $8 million apiece. After filing claims for compensation in the New York Court of Claims, Devon, Cathy, Carlos, and Eric each won settlements totaling $3,890,000 from the court.