Williamsburg, NY - Man Accused of Murdering Charedi Man Argues His Way Out of Jail
Williamsburg, NY - Each morning for 5,546 days, Jabbar Collins knew exactly what he’d wear when he awoke: a dark-green shirt with matching dark-green pants.
The prison greenies of a convicted murderer, he says, were “overly starched in the beginning, but as time wore on, and after repeated washes, they were worn and dull, like so many other things on the inside.”
For most of those 15 years, Mr. Collins, who maintained his innocence, knew the only way his wardrobe would change was if he did something that’s indescribably rare. He’d have to lawyer himself out of jail.
There was no crusading journalist, no nonprofit group taking up his cause, just Inmate 95A2646, a high-school dropout from Brooklyn, alone in a computerless prison law library.
“‘Needle in a haystack’ doesn’t communicate it exactly. Is it more like lightning striking your house?” says Adele Bernard, who runs the Post-Conviction Project at Pace Law School in New York, which investigates claims of wrongful conviction. “It’s so unbelievably hard…that it’s almost impossible to come up with something that captures that.”
Mr. Collins pried documents from wary prosecutors, tracked down reluctant witnesses and persuaded them, at least once through trickery, to reveal what allegedly went on before and at the trial where he was convicted of the high-profile 1994 murder of Rabbi Abraham Pollack.
The improbable result of that decade-and-a-half struggle was evident on a recent morning in a Midtown Manhattan skyscraper. Mr. Collins sat in a small office he now shares, wearing one of the eight dark suits he owns, a white shirt with French cuffs, a blue-and-gray striped tie and a pair of expensive wingtips. “Every day is beautiful” now, he said, smiling. “I don’t have a bad day anymore. I think that my worst bad day out of prison will be better than my greatest good day in prison.”
On March 13, 1995, as Mr. Collins was led by officers through a side door of a Brooklyn courtroom to a holding cell, his mother let loose a wailing sound that he’d “never heard before or since.” Her son had just been convicted of murder.
He was 22, a father of three and facing at least 34 2/3 years behind bars. Three witnesses had implicated him in the midday shooting of Mr. Pollack as the rabbi collected rent in a building at 126 Graham Avenue in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Mr. Collins said he was home getting a haircut at the time.
To that point in his life, Mr. Collins had been drifting. His father died when he was 12 and his mother worked two jobs while also studying nursing. Under-supervised, he skipped school often, smoked a lot of pot and fathered the first of his children when he was 15.
When he was 16, he was arrested for a robbery. He says he was just waiting outside the store where a robbery took place. Mr. Collins accepted a youthful-offender adjudication under which he got probation and the arrest could eventually be purged.
Mr. Collins later obtained a general-equivalency diploma and took some classes at Long Island University. He was trying to transfer to John Jay College of Criminal Justice when he was arrested for Mr. Pollack’s murder.
During his trial, Mr. Collins recalls being mystified. “I felt like a child,” he says, “everyone talking over my head.” But hearing his mother wailing as he was taken away suddenly cleared his head. “You have a life of misery ahead of you,” he remembers telling himself. “The only way you’re going to get out is to become your own lawyer.”
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