Free at last!
A judge finally overturned Brooklyn attorney and former perennial political candidate John O’Hara’s controversial 1990s conviction for voter fraud on Jan. 12, after the district attorney’s office discovered that a witness provided false testimony during the original case.
The exoneration is both a relief and vindication for the Sunset Parker, who has been fighting for 20 years to clear his good name while enduring a lengthy disbarment, five years of probation, a $20,000 fine, and performing 1,500 hours of community service.
“I feel great after 20 years,” said O’Hara, who celebrated with a chicken quesadilla and a beer. “Three trials, a dozen appeals — it’s over!”
The conviction remains one of the most bizarre prosecutions in Brooklyn history — O’Hara is still the only person to be found guilty of illegal voting in New York since suffragette Susan B. Anthony was convicted on the charge in 1873, when women could not vote.
Then-District Attorney Charles Hynes first targeted O’Hara in 1997 for voting outside of his registered election district, in what O’Hara believes was retaliation for him running against the top prosecutor’s buddies in elections — twice for Council seats and three times for the Assembly.
Hynes’s case relied heavily on the testimony of a former landlord who described the apartment O’Hara claimed to live in at the time as uninhabitable, according to one of the men responsible for investigating the case. Acting District Attorney Eric Gonzalez moved to nix the conviction after investigators tracked down a former witness who told them the apartment actually was fit to live in and had in fact been recently renovated before O’Hara started residing there with his then-girlfriend, he said.
“She gave us a much different account,” said Mark Hale, chief of the district attorney’s Conviction Review Unit.
The witness, who was not named, could not provide any explanation for why her testimony deviated so wildly, Hale said.
O’Hara is most indebted to late District Attorney Ken Thompson, who succumbed to cancer in October but posthumously fulfilled a promise he made to the beleaguered attorney after he defeated Hynes in 2014, according to his own attorney.
“[Thompson] saw that it was a political hit … that Hynes gave to John for somehow crossing the establishment of the Democratic Party that Hynes ran,” said O’Hara’s lawyer Dennis Kelly. “We were in his office right after he was elected and he said, ‘Yes John, we’re going to get justice for you.’ ”
O’Hara says he also owes a lot to this very paper for its tireless coverage of his legal woes and subsequent victories — including an investigation by the state judicial committee in 2009, which determined he was the victim of an unjustified and politically motivated prosecution.
“Without the Brooklyn Paper, I wouldn’t have been exonerated today,” O’Hara said
But O’Hara’s quest for justice isn’t over — he still plans on suing Hynes, Kelly said.
“It was a political witch-hunt that caused this prosecution of John and we’re going to hold them accountable in the very near future,” said Kelly. “A civil rights, malicious prosecution case will be filed shortly.”