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Judge throws out murder convictions, releases men jailed for 24 years

A New York state judge on Friday threw out murder convictions of three men who had been jailed for 24 years.

Justice Joseph A. Zayas reprimanded prosecutors for withholding evidence in the 1996 case that could have cast doubt on the guilt of George Bell, 44, Gary JohnsonGary Earl JohnsonNew Mexico lawmakers send recreational marijuana bills to governor Judge throws out murder convictions, releases men jailed for 24 years On The Trail: Making sense of Super Poll Sunday MORE,46, and Rohan Bolt 59, who were all found guilty in the murders of an off-duty NYPD police officer Charles Davis and Ira "Mike" Epstein.

According to multiple reports, prosecutors in the case failed to file police reports connecting the killings to other men who were part of a local robbery ring.

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"The District Attorney's Office deliberately withheld from the defense credible information of third-party guilt that is evidence that others may have committed these crimes. This exculpatory information was in the prosecution's possession, and had in fact been investigated and documented by the lead prosecutor at Mr. Bell's trial," Zayas said, according to CNN.
 
He also stated that the prosecution had “completely abdicated its truth-seeking role in these cases," according to the reports.

Five witnesses reportedly gave accounts of the crime in 1996 that directly contradicted the men's confessions.

Lawyers stated that they believed Johnson, Bell and Bolt's confessions were coerced, according to multiple reports.

Current Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz also agreed with Zayas in throwing out the convictions but stated that more investigation will be done in order to determine guilt or innocence.

“I cannot stand behind these convictions,” Katz said in a statement on Friday, according to The New York Times. “However, there is at this time insufficient evidence of actual innocence and therefore we are taking this opportunity to re-evaluate and examine the evidence.”

Bell, Bolt and Johnson were all released on their own recognizance on Friday and will return to court in June to determine whether or not they will be fully exonerated. Prosecutors have asked that the case will continue to be investigated, according to CNN.

"Today is the day I found the key. Today is the day, today is the day, today is the day, I am going home," Bell said in a video conference on Friday.