Anthony J. Barbera

Mistaken I.D. trumps 6 alibi witnesses

Convicted on March 24, 1931, in Kings County, New York, of an armed robbery based on the victim’s identification, Anthony J. Barbera was exonerated and released six days after the conviction based on another man’s confession to the crime.

The robbery occurred on February 6, 1931, at a delicatessen operated by Anthony Hugler at 63 Reid Avenue in Brooklyn. The next morning, Hugler saw Barbera on Reid Avenue and, apparently mistaking him for the robber, notified Detective Elliott Holmes, who was leading an investigation of a series of about thirty armed robberies in the area. Holmes arrested Barbera, twenty-five, who was charged with the crime and held on $500 bond pending trial.

Hugler identified Barbera at his March 24 trial before a jury and Kings County Judge Algernon I. Nova. District Attorney William F. X. Geoghan’s next witness was Detective Holmes, who testified that Barbera matched Hugler’s initial description of the robber. Barbera took the stand in his own defense, testifying that he had been working on a construction crew in Queens at the time of the crime. Six witnesses — the foreman and five laborers — corroborated the alibi. Nonetheless, after deliberating less than an hour, the jury found Barbera guilty. Judge Nova set sentencing for March 30.

Barbera faced a minimum prison term of twenty years, but two days before his sentencing police arrested Harold Sorenson, nineteen, on suspicion of murdering a Brooklyn coal dealer. Although Sorenson apparently had not committed the murder, he confessed to the Hugler robbery and several of the others that Holmes had been investigating. Geoghan, the prosecutor, interviewed Sorenson and concluded that he was telling the truth. On March 30, the day set for Barbera’s sentencing, Geoghan appeared before Judge Nova and confessed error. Nova vacated the conviction and Barbera was released after fifty-one days in jail.

— Roswell Mueller and Rob Warden