Rikers inmate on remand for 7 yrs says he 'just wants to go home'

The Rikers Island jail complex on Rikers Island is seen from LaGuardia Airport in New York (Reuters/Adrees Latif)
Carlos Montero was arrested and taken to the notorious Rikers Island prison when he was 17. Seven years later he's still locked up, awaiting trial. His custody has already cost New York over $1 million and may be the city’s longest pretrial detention.

Montero was arrested in 2008 for allegedly taking part in a robbery along with two buddies, Jairo Peralta and Diangelo Enriquez. A Washington Heights crime resulted in the death of one man, who, according to court papers cited by the New York Post, was fatally stabbed by Peralta while being robbed of his jacket. Enriquez meanwhile injured another man who tried to flee the scene of the crime. Although witness reports had placed him at the scene of the crime on October 23, Montero denies it and maintains his innocence.

“I don’t have the heart to kill someone,’’ Montero told the Post. He said prosecutors offered him a plea deal of 15 years behind bars that he refused. “I wasn’t there. I know I could sue, but no amount of money could get me justice for this. I just want my freedom.”

Reuters/Brendan McDermid

According to state law, prisoners are supposed to get a trial within 180 days. The law does not apply to murder cases, however. Montero has spent six years and eight months in Rikers Island, and after some 77 appearances in Manhattan Supreme Court he is still incarcerated.

“I’m depressed in here. I just want to go home,’’ he told the Post.

His court-appointed lawyer, Robert Jaffe, said he has attempted to separate Montero's case from the other two suspects’, but his appeal was denied. Jaffe has not even tried to ask the judge for bail, because “there’s no point,” he said. “Because it’s a murder case, he isn’t getting bail,” Jaffe added.

READ MORE: Man jailed at Rikers Island without charges for 3 years commits suicide

Montero said he heard about the recent suicide of Kalief Browder, who was arrested for stealing a backpack and jailed in Rikers Island for three years without charge. He was initially arrested on his way home in 2010, after an unknown individual identified Browder, then 16 years old, as the person who robbed him a few weeks prior. Browder was charged with second-degree robbery and, unable to post the $10,000 bail at the time of his arrest, was placed in Rikers Island. His case never went to trial, and the teenager languished in prison until the charges were dropped without explanation in June 2013. His stay at the prison included nearly two years of solitary confinement. Browder said he was subject to endless assaults and beating from prison guards and inmates. Rikers Island surveillance footage of two instances in which he was assaulted (one by an officer and one by a large group of inmates) were reportedly provided to The New Yorker. Browder struggled with depression and attempted suicide several times during and after his incarceration, according to magazine. The 22-year-man eventually took his life at his family's home in the Bronx on June 6.

Montero says suicide is not an option. “I don’t think about killing myself because I love myself.”
“I still think I can get justice,” he added.

According to prominent civil rights and criminal defense lawyer Ron Kuby, Montero's case is “gold medal-winning” in terms of delay, the longest period of time in New York state he ever heard of being about five years.

“It seems a very clear constitutional violation to hold somebody for nearly seven years in pretrial detention without trial,” he told the Post.

Meanwhile, the average annual cost of housing one inmate in NYC in 2012 was $167,731, according to the city’s Independent Budget Office. Montero’s seven-year pretrial detention has already cost the city over $1 million.