A New York appeals court on Wednesday overturned the conviction of a woman found guilty of causing the death of an anti-gang activist in a dispute over a memorial honoring the activist’s slain daughter.
Citing prosecutorial misconduct, the court ordered a new trial for Annmarie Drago, saying the prosecutor mischaracterized evidence during his summation and confused the jury.
In September 2018, activist Evelyn Rodriguez had set up the memorial in front of Drago’s mother’s house, ahead of a vigil to mark the two-year anniversary of the discovery of Rodriguez’s daughter’s body at the property.
However, Drago was in the process of selling the suburban Long Island home, and dismantled the memorial because she didn’t want to scare off potential buyers. That led to a confrontation between the two women.
Jurors found that Drago caused Evelyn Rodriguez’s death when she drove over her with her SUV. Drago was sentenced last year to nine months in jail following her 2020 criminally negligent homicide conviction.
Rodriguez had become a symbol in the fight against gang violence after her 16-year-old daughter, Kayla Cuevas, was hacked and beaten to death along with a friend. Authorities believe the girls were victims of the MS-13 gang.
Suffolk County District Attorney Raymond Tierney, in a statement Wednesday, said Drago’s trial predated his arrival and that the prosecutor in the case is no longer with the district attorney’s office.
“We respect the appellate court’s decision and will, of course, abide by the ruling as we evaluate how best to proceed in light of this decision,” Tierney said.