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Man cleared in ’76 death of police officer

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A jury took less than five hours to clear a man who had been accused of killing a police officer for more than two decades.

The jury on Monday acquitted V. James Landano of charges that he murdered a Newark police officer in 1976, closing one of the state's longest-running criminal cases.Minutes later, Landano smiled with relief as he stood with his wife on the steps of the Hudson County Courthouse. He criticized authorities who kept him in prison for 12 years.

"The individuals that did this murder are the most vile individuals . . . and they are the people that this prosecutor's office slept with to make a deal," Landano said.

The verdict came exactly nine years after a federal judge, finding prosecutorial misconduct, overturned a 1977 verdict that put Landano in prison.

Landano was free but electronically monitored since then, while his lawyers argued in vain for the Hudson County prosecutor to drop the case. A grand jury reindicted him on a murder charge in September 1996.

Landano, 58, now a paralegal, faced up to a life prison term. Still, defense lawyer Paul J. Casteleiro said, Landano turned down a plea bargain offer of time served if Landano would admit to receiving a stolen car.