A Suffolk County judge Tuesday vacated the conviction of a man who stole from ex-Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke, who admitted last year to beating the man and covering it up.
Judge Richard Ambro granted the motion by Bruce Barket, the attorney for Christopher Loeb, who was released from prison following the hearing at county court in Riverhead. Although the Smithtown man is still facing charges in connection with the theft, Barket believes he will be exonerated and the special prosecutor trying the case conceded that Loeb will likely not face additional prison time.
“I think it’s clear that it’s the right thing to do,” Judge Ambro said after the prosecutor agreed with Barket’s motion to vacate Loeb’s conviction because police perjured themselves while making their case.
Loeb, a recovering heroin addict, was arrested for stealing a gym bag containing a gun clip, pornography and other items from Burke’s SUV in 2012 and he was sentenced to 3 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to criminal possession of a weapon in 2014. Barket filed the motion to vacate that conviction after Burke pleaded guilty at federal court in November to beating Loeb and ordering officers to cover it up by denying the beating happened during a hearing on a motion to suppress the evidence in the case before Loeb pleaded guilty.
“The evidence that is subject of the charges should have been suppressed,” said Barket of Garden City-based Barket Marion Epstein Kearon LLP.
William Ferris, the special prosecutor appointed to try the case, agreed.
“Some of that testimony was false and was based on perjury,” Ferris told reporters outside the court room. “His civil rights were violated because perjury…You can’t do that in our system.”
But the case is not over yet. The judge also granted Ferris’ request to reinstate the indictment charging Loeb with theft and possession of brass knuckles, which was a violation of the probation he was serving at the time of his arrest. The judge released Loeb without bail, but warned him that if he relapses and misses future court dates—including his next hearing on March 3—he would face an additional charge of bail jumping.
“There really isn’t much more prison time he could serve,” Ferris said, noting that he just wants Loeb to take responsibility for his actions.
Barket maintained that there is insufficient evidence to convict Loeb since there were so much misconduct involved in the case and that if it went to trial, he believes a jury would acquit his client. He also believes that Loeb recognizes the opportunity he has to turn his life around. And he added that the case is indicative of the fact that reform is needed in Suffolk’s justice system.
“There certainly is an irony that Chris is going home today and the chief of the department into his second year of a four-year federal prison sentence,” he said.
Loeb, who gave a brief statement to the media upon his release, thanked his lawyers and the federal prosecutors who investigated Burke.
“For the first time in years, I can actually enjoy my freedom knowing that James Burke is incarcerated and unable to harm me, my family or any other resident of Suffolk County,” Loeb said. “I know I have challenges ahead of me and I look forward to meeting them. I have the faith and hope necessary to become the productive, successful and happy person I want to be.”