NBC’s ‘Dateline: In the Shadow of Justice: A Bronx Tale’ chronicles how five men were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to 25 years to life in mid-1995 for the January 1995 murder of a Bronx cabbie, Baithe Diop. The episode highlights the botched-up investigation and lying witnesses and how the individuals kept fighting for almost two decades before they were able to vacate their convictions. If you’re interested in finding out what happened, including who the real killers might be, we’ve your back. Let’s begin then, shall we?
How Did Baithe Diop Die?
Baithe Diop was a 43-year-old Senegalese immigrant who worked for New Harlem Car Service in New York City in 1995. He made his last pickup at West 141st Street in Harlem around 4:30 am and headed to the Bronx on January 19, 1995, where he was robbed and killed. He was shot twice in his livery cab and left to die as his 1988 Lincoln rolled down Soundview in the Bronx, not stopping until it struck a trash hauling bin. Baithe was slain at a time when cab drivers were regularly attacked in the city, with nearly 70 drivers killed in 1993 and 1994.
According to reports, Baithe’s murder was entangled with the murder of a Federal Express recruiter named Denise Raymond. After her concerned family called the New York Police Department and alleged she had not shown up to work, the officers went to her Soundview apartment. The law enforcement officials found the 38-year-old lying on the floor, her wrists handcuffed, her mouth stuffed with a sock and taped over, and two bullet holes in her head. Baithe died about a block from Denise’s residence.
Who Killed Baithe Diop?
The subsequent police investigation would link the two murders and herd together a dizzying array of defendants and witnesses. The investigators found two key witnesses — a 16-year-old girl named Catherine Gomez and the other an alleged drug addict named Miriam Tavares. Catherine informed the detectives she had eavesdropped on an individual named Devon Ayers and three other guys planning Denise’s murder and heard them boasting about it after.
The other witness, Miriam, told police she had seen and heard the murderers from her bathroom window. She claimed to witness five people flee Baithe’s vehicle after the shooting. Based on the statements of the two women, the authorities charged Devon, then 18, Michael Cosme, then 19, Carlos Perez, then 25, and Israel Vasquez, then 17, with murdering Denise at the behest of her former boyfriend, Charles McKinnon. Police sources claimed the Federal Express recruiter was killed because she rebuffed Charles’ efforts to resume their relationship.
Charles was charged with conspiring to have the four murder Denise. Miriam also identified the aforementioned quartet charged with Denise’s murder and two more — Eric Glisson, then 18, and Cathy Watkins, then 27 — as the men fleeing Baithe’s car. During their investigation, police learned that Baithe had been dispatched to 30 W. 141st Street, where he got murdered during an attempted robbery. Cathy was a resident of that building, and the detectives asked her to come into the police station.
While at the precinct, the investigators requested her to answer a telephone and pretend she was ordering a car to pick her up. Unbeknownst to her, the authorities had also brought in the dispatcher who took the call that sent the slain cab driver to the 141st Street address. She listened to Cathy’s voice on the line from another part of the station and immediately identified her as the caller. Despite Cathy proclaiming her innocence and claiming she did not know any of her co-defendants, she was also charged with Baithe’s murder.
Devon, Michael, Carlos, and Israel went on trial for the murders of Denise and Baithe in March 1997. They were convicted of both murders, and each was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison in each case served consecutively on March 5, 1997. Israel was acquitted of the Baithe murder but convicted of murdering Denise. However, an appeals court later reversed that conviction, ruling there was insufficient evidence of guilt. Eric and Cathy went on trial separately for Baithe’s murder in September 1997.
They were convicted based on the testimony of the car service dispatcher, Catherine, and Miriam — although Miriam gave conflicting testimony that included seeing the shooting from a window where it was impossible to view the crime. She identified Eric as the shooter. Eric and Cathy were convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. However, things began to change in 2003 when federal authorities were investigating a Bronx narcotics gang called Sex Money and Murder (SMM).
The investigator, John O’Malley, leading the probe was in touch with Jose Rodriguez and Gilbert Vega — two former members of SMM — who were cooperating in the investigation. Both men independently described being involved in robbing a Bronx livery driver in late 1994 or early 1995. They confessed they had each shot the driver and fled, and neither knew whether he had survived or died. While John O’Malley could not connect the dots due to not knowing about Baithe’s murder, Eric, serving his sentence at Sing Sing prison, did.
He sent a letter to federal prosecutors in New York in May 2012, alleging about hearing SMM gang members were involved in Baithe’s murder. The Bronx prosecutors interviewed Jose and Gilbert and were convinced of the innocence of the five convicts. They agreed that the five should have their convictions vacated for the cab driver’s slaying. Eric and Cathy were released from prison on bond in October 2012, and the charges against the duo were dismissed on December 13, 2012.
The charges against the remaining three convicts were also dismissed on December 12, 2012, but they remained in prison for the Denise murder. The five convicts filed federal civil rights lawsuits in 2014. According to reports, the cases were settled for $8 million each in April 2016. Devon, Cathy, Carlos, and Eric subsequently filed claims for compensation in the New York Court of Claims and received $3,890,000 each in settlements.