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Queens murder conviction reversed due to controversial judge’s actions

2019-09-23

A convicted killer could walk free thanks to an impatient Queens judge with a history of conviction reversals, the Daily News has learned.

Tyrone Price, 36, accused of fatally shooting a grocery store owner during a botched robbery in Jamaica in February 2003, skated after a hung jury. He was then convicted in 2010 and sentenced to 22 years to life by Justice Ronald Hollie.

On Wednesday, however, Price got off the hook again after an appeals court reversed that conviction and ordered yet another trial.

According to the court decision, during the time prospective jurors were being questioned, each side had the chance to challenge a juror. But Hollie went ahead and chose a juror that Price’s lawyer wanted dismissed after the attorney took too long to speak up.

Wednesday’s ruling was from the same appeals court that rebuked Hollie in 2017 for asking more than 200 questions from the bench in another case, this one involving a $4,000 gunpoint robbery. The court upbraided Hollie for acting more like a second prosecutor than an arbiter of justice.

“There must be a new trial, before a different Justice, because the Supreme Court conducted excessive and prejudicial questioning of trial witnesses,” the decision explained. “Although defense counsel did not object to the questioning of witnesses by the court, we reach this contention in the exercise of our interest of justice jurisdiction.”

It’s common for judges to ask questions during a case, particularly if a witness is confused by queries from trial lawyers, or if the judge needs to clarify an answer — and most jurors tend to accept those instances. Still, many lawyers are fearful of challenging a judge in open court.

The defendant convicted in that 2017 case, Darnell Ramsey, 30, is now awaiting a new trial. He remains jailed pending an upcoming bail hearing.

It marked the fifth prosecution in which Hollie was cited for prejudicial behavior from the bench. As a result of four previous reversals — another two in 2017, and two in 2018 — the defendants all copped pleas rather than going to trial again. All were set free, credited with time already served in prison, with three pleading to felonies and one to a misdemeanor.

The appeals court in all five instances barred Hollie from presiding over any retrial. Yet Price, still behind bars, will stand trial again before Hollie.

The judge refused comment. The Queens DA’s office also had no comment.

Price’s appeals lawyer, Denise Powell, said the appeals court got it right.

“We’re pleased with the decision,” she said.