"The best way to clear my name was to get myself out."
Fifty-two-year-old Michael Robinson spent 26 years in prison for a Queens murder before getting out on parole in March of 2019.
His battle to clear his name has taken a new turn after a judge ordered a hearing to assess the impact of newly discovered DNA evidence that appears to exonerate the former NYC correction officer.
A jury in 1993 convicted Robinson of fatally stabbing his ex-wife Gwendolyn Samuels, who worked as a home-health aide in Bayside for an elderly woman who was the sole eyewitness in the case. She was also stabbed, but survived. There was no physical evidence linking Robinson to the crime scene. He later passed a polygraph test in prison.
"I didn’t want to die in prison for something I didn’t do," an emotional Robinson said in an exclusive interview with NBC New York.
Robinson’s DNA quest began in 2013 when he received a document in his jail cell through a Freedom of Information request listing evidence samples collected 20 years before, including blood from the victim’s sweater and fingernail scrapings.
"This here is my freedom," Robinson told the I-Team. "It showed there was DNA evidence somewhere," he added.
The Queens District Attorney’s office opposed his request for DNA testing and Justice Stephen Knopf refused to order it. Attorneys from The Legal Aid Society persuaded the Appellate Division that the ruling was in error. Staff Attorney Harold Ferguson said the DA’s office then began to claim the evidence was gone.
"First they said it was lost in Superstorm Sandy after being flooded at the NYPD's Erie Basin warehouse," he said. "Then they argued if it could be located there, it was too contaminated to be safely analyzed."
In 2017, Robinson's attorneys say they were informed that the New York Office of the Medical Examiner had the DNA evidence at its Manhattan location all along.
The DA’s office told the I-Team in a statement: "It was believed the sweater and fingernail scrapings were inside an evidence barrel rendered inaccessible."
After being told the ME’s lab found inconclusive results from the DNA samples, Legal Aid enlisted the analysis of Cybergenetics, a forensic firm NYC hired in 2005 to identify victims of the 911 World Trade Center terror attacks.
In court on Sept. 16 the lead scientist testified that the patented TrueAllele method had also been used by prosecutors in four different New York jurisdictions and by State Police.
Dr. Mark Perlin indicated that the genetic material was 78 trillion times more likely to match someone other than Robinson. Perlin said that the likelihood of Robinson’s specific DNA being under the victim’s fingernails was one in 1.18 trillion.
"The person who left that DNA is the real killer," said Legal Aid DNA expert Jessica Goldthwaite. "We believe there was a violent struggle."
Testimony in the hearing will continue in October. A decision likely won’t be made for months.
The DA's office is standing by the conviction, saying the evidence against Robinson was "overwhelming."
"When it works for them, they tout DNA," said Goldthwaite. "When it goes against them, it suddenly doesn’t matter."
The victim's family, who attended the first day of the hearing, told the I-Team they believe Robinson is guilty.
"My sister always said if she ended up dead, it was Michael," said Carolyn Samuels.