Claude Bird, 42, of the Bronx, is anticipated to go on trial beginning next Monday and faces six armed robbery counts in connection with the $241,000 robbery from a European American Bank branch in Lake Success. Two other people have already been served prison time for the crime. The proceeds of the March 8, 1993 heist were never recovered.
Prosecutors allege Bird fled to his native Jamaica after the armed stickup. He was arrested on the Caribbean island in 1994 and was held in what his lawyer says were “dungeon-like conditions.” Court papers described his cell as a dirt floor with exposed wires and broken windows.
Officials have said Bird made admissions about the alleged crime to police in Jamaica, but his confession was scrapped from the case when a judge ruled he was held in an environment that “shocked the judicial conscience.” According to court documents, Bird also confessed to Nassau County detectives who also questioned him in Jamaica. A judge previously ruled that confession would be admissible at his trial, but Bird’s defense lawyer, Toni Marie Angeli, is now asking for it to be tossed.
State Supreme Court Judge George Peck will rule Thursday after the defense asked to preclude certain evidence at the non-jury trial. Peck said he was concerned about whether the alleged second confession was “voluntary.” The judge is also expected to rule on a separate defense motion, which asks him to dismiss all charges.
In court papers filed Tuesday, Angeli said prosecutors “lost or destroyed” evidence, including surveillance video, a hair found in the bank’s vault and a sneaker imprint found inside. Assistant District Attorney Jessica Cepriano said prosecutors will seek to introduce still photographs from the video, but said other evidence has “disappeared along the way.” A spokesman for District Attorney Kathleen Rice offered no further comment.
Peck has said Bird’s prosecution is the oldest pending criminal case in New York. The district attorney claims Bird escaped from a Jamaican jail several decades ago. However, his attorney has said a judge released him after getting frustrated that there was “no satisfactory response” from U.S. authorities on when he might be extradited for trial.
Bird was arrested in 2010 after applying for a license in his own name at a Department of Motor Vehicles office in the Bronx. At that time, police said they thought Bird snuck back into the United States in 1994 or 1995 and had been using a dead man’s identity. Prosecutors say that was a sign he was attempting to avoid detection, but Angeli said her client was using another person’s name because he was an undocumented immigrant.
In 2011, a Nassau judge dismissed Bird’s case, saying his right to a speedy trial had been violated. An appeals court later reversed that decision. Bird has been free as he awaits trial.