Wrongfully Convicted Man Freed Speaks at York

After twenty-five years of being wrongfully incarcerated, Johnny Hincapie, now 43, came to York College, CUNY to speak to the college community about his ordeal in prison and his rise through despair through family support and religious faith.

Hincapie was released from Sing Sing Correctional Facility after Manhattan state Supreme Court, Justice Eduardo Padro, overturned his conviction. York Journalism Professor, William Hughes, played an integral role in Hincapie’s case by doing an extensive investigative report on the case, which caught the attention of others who helped to investigate the case as well. They too were on the panel. They included former NYPD detective Pete Fiorello, former chairman of the New York State Parole Board Bob Dennison, and City Limits Executive Editor and Publisher Jarret Murphy.

“I was always free in my mind,” said Hincapie. “Even though I was incarcerated, I tried not to lock my mind up. That’s how I grew up and I rose above the jail cells. I have Bill, Bob, Kim, Jarret, my family, and God to thank for that.”

Hincapie implicated the importance of education. He said without theatre and college, he would not have remained positive. While in prison, Hincapie received a master’s degree in Professional Studies

“Everyone in jail wears a mask, said Hincapie. “But when you’re learning or acting, you get to take that mask off and be yourself. I know this may sound stupid, but I’m happy I went to prison. I learned a lot about myself and the world in there.”
Just 18 months after the Central Park Five case, Hincapie, then 18 and a group of fifty other teenagers were heading to Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan when one of the members of the group stabbed and killed 22-year old tourist from Utah, Brian Watkins. The next day, Hincapie said the NYPD coerced him into admitting that he was guilty. To this day, Hincapie maintains his innocence.

Criminal defense lawyer, Ronald Kuby and Hughes said the motion to vacate Hincapie’s conviction in 2013 took nearly two years. Hincapie recalled the difficult moments in prison. He said he was beaten by officers and inmates often tried to manipulate him.

“Through it all, Johnny was strong and Bill was the bulldog,” said Rehabilitation Through the Arts’ Musical Director, Kim Breden. “Bill worked really hard on this case and found people that may have never appeared in the case without him.”
Hincapie said he has high hopes that he will remain a freed man. He also said he wants to use his experience to help wrongfully convicted inmates.

“I’m free and the best thing I can do now is live,” he said. “They took 25 years of my life away. I want to share my story not only for myself, but for people to see there is faith if you keep positive.”

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