NEW YORK - Raw emotions of relief and joy were on display outside a courthouse in Nassau County. There were hugs, handshakes, smiles, and tears that have not been possible for decades. Christopher Ellis also received a FaceTime phone call from someone who couldn't be there.
"Do you know how it works?" one of Ellis's friends said to him as the 51-year-old smiled at the screen.
"We're going to figure it out," Ellis said.
You can understand why Ellis may not know how to work modern-day face-to-face phone calls. He has been locked in prison for the last 30 years but his murder conviction was just tossed out.
"I feel wonderful," Ellis told a crowd of reporters. "I want to run to the car so we can get out of here. I'm just happy to be out here and see my family."
The crime happened back in 1990. Assistant Hofstra football coach Joe Healy was killed while sitting with his friends outside a fast-food restaurant. Police said it was a botched robbery. His death shattered the community at the time and led to a lot of media attention.
With pressure to find a killer, investigators eventually zeroed in on Ellis, who was 20 at the time, and two other men.
Last month, a judge said the conviction should be tossed because when the trial took place in 1992 the jury made the decision to convict based on testimony from a single witness and no forensic evidence.
"It's a great day for justice," said Ilann Maazel, Ellis's attorney.
"We found that the Nassau County Police Department hid evidence, hid leads," Maazel said. "They hid confessions. They coerced confessions."
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The Nassau County Conviction Integrity Unit launched an investigation in 2019 into claims that Ellis may have been wrongfully convicted, according to a spokesperson for the Nassau County District Attorney's Office.
The probe revealed that a detective investigating the murder made notes in a memo pad about leads that the police received about two other possible suspects but ultimately didn't charge, communications director Brendan Brosh said in the statement.
"These memo-pad notes were not contained in the District Attorney's file, and further investigation revealed that they had never been turned over to the defendant or the two co-defendants as required under Brady v. Maryland. Upon discovery, the Conviction Integrity Unit promptly disclosed the notes to Mr. Ellis' attorney, Ilaan Maazel," Brosh said in his statement. "The NCDA has no basis to believe that the failure to disclose the notes was intentional, or that the prosecutor was even aware of their existence. The Conviction Integrity Unit was unable to confer with the former prosecutor because he passed away in September 2018."
Ellis could be prosecuted again but the DA hasn't made a decision about that yet, Brosh said.
"Our condolences remain with family and friends of Joseph Healy, as well as his many friends and colleagues at Hofstra University," he said.
Ellis said the first thing he planned to do after leaving the courthouse was to stop for some rum-raisin ice cream.
With FOX 5 NY Staff.