HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A Connecticut man whose exoneration in a 1993 murder case was overturned by the state Supreme Court a decade ago has been released from prison, after a judge granted his request to reduce his 80-year sentence to time served, according to court documents obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.
George Gould, 59, was freed after state Judge Gerald Harmon in New Haven approved a sentence modification on May 4, according to the documents. He was released from prison the next day, according to the Department of Correction. Gould was convicted of felony murder and robbery charges for the shooting death of New Haven grocery shop owner Eugenio Deleon Vega.
The reasons listed in Gould’s application were “the defendant has served sufficient time for the offenses of which he was convicted. The defendant maintains his innocence of these offenses.” Gould’s lawyers, Damon Kirschbaum and Richard Emanuel, declined to comment Wednesday. They continue to represent Gould in an appeal aimed at overturning the conviction. Prosecutors agreed with the sentence reduction, according to the documents. A message seeking comment was left for Chief State’s Attorney Richard Colangelo’s office.
Gould and Ronald Taylor were each convicted in Vega’s shooting death and sentenced to 80 years in prison, but both men were freed in April 2010 after serving 16 years behind bars. A Superior Court judge had ruled they were victims of “manifest injustice” and declared them “actually innocent.” The ruling came after a key witness recanted her trial testimony.
But the state Supreme Court reinstated their murder convictions in July 2011, saying Judge Stanley Fuger was wrong to overturn them because Gould and Taylor hadn’t proven their innocence. The high court ordered a new appeal trial for the two men. Gould was ordered back to prison, while Taylor was allowed to remain free while fighting colon cancer. Taylor died in October 2011 while awaiting the new appeal trial.
With no physical evidence, the case has centered on key witness Doreen Stiles, who testified at the original criminal trial that she saw Gould enter Vega’s store and heard an argument about money and opening the safe, followed by a single gunshot. She said she then saw Gould and Taylor leave the store.
But Stiles recanted that testimony in the appeal trial before Fuger, saying she lied at the original trial and wasn’t at the murder scene. She said she was “dopesick” when police interrogated her after the killing and a detective told her he would help her buy heroin if she told authorities what happened.
Stiles said she identified Taylor and Gould in photos and afterward two detectives gave her $60 and drove her to a street where she bought heroin. Police have denied that. Stiles later said her original testimony was the truth and she was bribed by a former investigator for the public defenders’ office to recant her testimony. The investigator, Gerald O’Donnell, was later convicted of bribing and tampering with a witness in another case and sentenced to four years in prison in 2014.
At Gould’s second appeal trial, a judge affirmed the convictions, saying Stiles’ testimony at the original trial was credible and Gould did not prove she lied. The judge noted Stiles testified about two other witnesses who were documented to have been near the shooting scene. When asked to testify at the second appeal trial, Stiles refused and invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Gould is awaiting a third appeal trial, which was supposed to begin next March but was recently postponed to December 2024. Contact information for him could not immediately be found.