Convicted murderer Eric Page has always insisted he was never at Marvin Grimsley’s Strong Street apartment when Ralph Vilaneuva was fatally shot over crack cocaine more than 20 years ago.
Page, who testified in his own defense during his 1994 trial, will now be given a chance to introduce new evidence that he believes will exonerate him of the murder that has kept him behind bars for more than half his life. Justices with the Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court decided that Page, who turned 37 earlier this month, can present an affidavit of an individual claiming someone else killed Vilaneuva at a lower court hearing in an attempt to vacate his conviction.
Maurice Miller submitted an affidavit in January 2012, alleging that he witnessed another drug dealer — identified in court documents as Alexander Llanos — selling crack to Grimsely on the day of the murder, and not Page. Miller also indicated that Llanos later confessed to the shooting.
“Turning to the question of whether the evidence proffered was merely impeachment evidence, the confession of Llanos to the crime was material to the ultimate issue of [Page]’s guilt or innocence,” Justice William McCarthy wrote in the decision released Thursday. “Furthermore, a defendant has a fundamental right to offer into evidence the admission of another to the crime with which he or she is charged and, therefore, a hearing should have been held to determine the probative value of Miller’s testimony and its probable effect on the verdict.”
The justices were not, however, persuaded by Page’s claim that the bullets retrieved from the crime scene appeared to come from different guns. Rather, they ruled the ballistics showed evidence that the bullets came from the same gun, but not conclusively.
Page was convicted of fatally shooting Vilaneuva and grievously wounding Grimsley over money he was owed for crack. At trial, Grimsley testified that he bought crack from Page on several occasions throughout the day leading up to the shooting, each time promising to pay later.
Upon Page’s third visit, he demanded the drugs back from Vilaneuva, who said he had smoked them all and then turned away. Grimsley testified it was Page who then shot Vilaneuva in the back before turning the gun on him.
Vilaneuva’s aorta was pierced by the bullet, killing him. Grimsley suffered a bullet wound in his lower chest and one to his left side.
Page testified he was doing laundry with his brother and then later attended a picnic on a sunny May day. His defense attorney argued the crack-addled Grimsley had mistaken his client for someone else.
Prosecutors countered by bringing in meteorologists who showed the weather on the day of the shooting was rainy, contrary to Page’s recollection. The also contested the notion that the crack would distort Grimsely’s perception enough that he couldn’t positively identify Page, who was within close proximity to him on the eve of the shooting.
Page appealed his conviction in 1996, contending that the trial evidence was legally insufficient to establish guilt. At the time, the appellate division was unpersuaded by his argument.
Page was represented by G. Scott Walling, a Florida attorney who couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday. County prosecutors did not return a call for comment.