Edwin Velazquez thought his fight was over April 22, when a jury acquitted him of any part in a 2015 murder.
But while he won in criminal court, he came home to much loss.
Now, he’s fighting to get his life back, starting with his job in Atlantic City’s Public Works Department.
The state takeover has muddled that road, he learned.
“I don’t know which way to go,” he said, sitting at a table in the City Hall employee lunchroom after handing in his exoneration letter to his former boss, Public Works Director Paul Jerkins.
“I’m not looking for a free hand out,” Velazquez said. “I just want what’s due to me. I just need to get my family back in order.”
The city has not returned requests for information. The state cannot comment on personnel matters, Department of Community Affairs spokeswoman Lisa Ryan said.
Velazquez had almost eight years in when he was arrested at work March 21, 2016, accused of driving his cousin Dennis Munoz to Michael Black’s Hamilton Township home Nov. 9, 2015, when Black was fatally shot.
Munoz was convicted of murder at the same trial his cousin was cleared.
“He was very happy for me,” Velazquez said of Munoz, who shook his hand in court afer the verdicts were announced.
He insists neither he nor his cousin had anything to do with the killing.
Munoz was arrested Nov. 10, 2015.
Four months and two interviews with detectives later, Velazquez was charged as his co-conspirator.
“I thought I was going to be out in a day or two,” he said. “They’ll realize it was a big mistake.”
Instead, he missed the graduation of his daughter, who has Down’s syndrome, from the Atlantic City Special Services School that June.
Then, a year passed. Velazquez’s job status went from suspended without pay to fired, a decision he says he was told was a result of the state takeover.
More time passed.
His stepdaughter, who had just started at Temple University when he was arrested, graduated six months early. She worked three jobs to help put herself through and take some of the burden off her mother.
Velazquez said months before trial, he was offered a plea deal that would have downgraded his charges significantly. With time already served, he likely would be freed.
But, despite his wife’s pleas to take the deal and come home, Velazquez refused.
Meg Hoerner was assigned the case in October as a pooled attorney, a private attorney assigned through the Public Defender’s Office.
“Edwin made it very clear from the very first time that I met him that he was innocent and would not entertain any plea discussions whatsoever for that reason,” she told BreakingAC. “As his attorney I needed to make sure he understood his exposure in the event of a conviction, but I didn’t waste a lot of time pushing him towards a plea because he was innocent. Instead we spent our time preparing for trial.”
Now, Velazquez is doing what he can to get his job back, with all the seniority he earned.
“I’ve been patient for three years just to prove my innocence,” he said. “I just don’t know where to go from here.”
He said he can’t really afford an attorney to fight for him.
“I shouldn’t have to hire an outside lawyer for this,” Velazquez said of fighting for his job and full pay. “I’ve had enough of lawyers.”