Ten years ago, Dan Slepian began receiving letters from an inmate at the in Ossining.
The prisoner, Jon-Adrian Velazquez, who was serving 25 years to life for the 1997 murder of a retired New York City cop, asked for the news producer's help in proving his innocence.
Slepian, a Katonah resident, received dozens of such letters throughout his 16-year career as an investigative producer at NBC, but this appeal was different. It arrived via David Lemus, exonerated of the murder of a New York City nightclub bouncer and freed from prison after 15 years, due in large part because of evidence uncovered by Slepian and compiled into a two-hour documentary for Dateline.
"I told David that he could tell me if he knew of other cases worth investigating," Slepian, 41, told Patch. "And then I started receiving Jon-Adrian's letters that were so articulate, smart...and desperate. And then I met him. There's something about him that engages you. He wanted me to prove his innocence. I couldn't walk away from that."
Their meeting began a ten-year journey including the collection and review of thousands of documents, tracking down the eyewitnesses who testified and developing a deeply personal connection to Velazquez.
Slepian said he set out to find the truth.
"If that were me—snatched out of my home and my life with a wife and two babies—I would be determined to reveal the truth. And I think the facts speak for themselves," he said.
The show, reported by Luke Russert, lays out the facts: Velazquez was arrested in 1998 for a robbery-turned-murder at an underground betting parlor. The next day, Velazquez volunteered to appear in a police line-up, believing he had nothing to worry about. He never went home.
Through interviews with lawyers, eyewitnesses and Velazquez's family, who now reside in Rockland County, viewers learn about a murder scene with no physical evidence tied to Velazquez, eyewitnesses—one of whom was on heroin at the time of the crime—who recant their identifications of Velazquez and a juror who publicly expresses doubt about the outcome of the case for which he was sequestered for three days before convicting Velazquez.
Featured in the broadcast are attorneys Robert Gottlieb and Celia Gordon, who have represented Velazquez for the past two years and may finally have enough evidence to prove his innocence. The case is currently being reviewed by the office of Cyrus Vance, Jr., Manhattan District Attorney.
In one segment, the viewer witnesses a conversation with Velzquez and his teenaged son, who grew up without a father.
Slepian, himself a husband to Jocelyn Kester, a nutrition counselor, and father to a young daughter at , said including those moments were important.
"Any parent could understand why—what if that was your kid and you were ripped apart from your family? I feel badly it's taken ten years for this to happen. It's difficult. I met his kids when they were 7 and 3. They grew up visiting their Dad in prison," he said.
When asked if he ever doubted Velazquez's innocence, Slepian said when working on a project for so long with such high stakes, the emotions were complicated.
"I don't think he did it. There were times—you visit someone in prison enough and see them get padded down and ordered around and you think, they must have done something," he said. "But I have had a front row seat in a story that highlights how the system can go wrong. And I hope people can recognize that the possibility exists that innocent people will remain in prison because that’s how the law works."
Viewers will have the chance to decide for themselves on Sunday night. The show, "Conviction," airs at 7 p.m. on NBC.