Manuel Gomez seems like a character out of a detective novel. The New York City–based private investigator dresses in double-breasted suits, carries a pen that doubles as a knife, wears a watch with a concealed camera, and reads The Art of War on stakeouts.
To many residents of the South Bronx, he’s a hero. A former police officer, Gomez has made a name for himself investigating the cases of people who say they’ve been arrested for crimes they didn’t commit. He sees himself as a vigilante, freeing the innocent while fighting corruption within the New York Police Department and the court systems.
But the PI’s methods are controversial. He walks the line between what’s ethically permissible and what’s not, and while a lot of people see Gomez as a white knight, there are many who consider him a villain.
The debut season of Conviction, a new true crime podcast from Gimlet, follows Gomez as he investigates the case of Pedro Hernandez, a teenager picked up as a suspect in a Bronx shooting and jailed on Rikers Island for over a year awaiting trial. Hosted by journalist Saki Knafo and based on his reporting for The New York Times Magazine, the series asks tough questions about our flawed justice system—as well as the motives of a man who has dedicated his life to battling it.
"Manny has this unshakable sense of conviction in himself and in his methods," Knafo tells VICE. "He goes to extreme lengths to win—he would say for justice, but other people would say for his own glory or vindication."
The Bronx, in particular, is a terrible place to be accused of a serious crime. People there spend months, sometimes years, locked up on Rikers Island awaiting trial. Held on bails they can’t afford, they’re pressured to take plea deals that result in automatic convictions.
Gomez works to free the falsely accused by turning the tables on the cops investigating his clients, accusing them of misconduct and taking the dirt he digs up to the local news. "People in places like the South Bronx... rarely have the opportunity to challenge the credibility of their accusers. That’s what Manny does. He doesn't do it in a courthouse, he does it in the court of public opinion," Knafo says.
All seven episodes of Conviction will drop on February 4, available wherever you get your podcasts.
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