Isidore Zimmerman, the 63-year-old New York doorman who escaped the electric chair by only two hours and spent nearly 25 years in jail for a murder he did not commit, was given the go-ahead to sue New York State for damages yesterday after Gov. Hugh Carey signed a bill waiving the state's right to sovereign immunity.
Zimmerman, who will press for $10 million in damages when his case goes before the Court of Claims, said, "I'm happy as a bird. I'm ecstatic, there's no doubt about the future anymore . . . I even have 59 movie offers for my story.
"I feel no bitterness," said Zimmerman. "For the first 10 years in jail, I was a raving maniac. I wanted to die. I was like a volcano. They left me for dead. But somehow, I always found a little something that brought me back of life."
Zimmerman was jailed as an accomplice in the murder of a New York City detective in 1938 on the same day he had been accepted to Columbia University Law School. He was freed in 1962 when a court found that the prosecutor had used perjured testimony.
Since his release, Zimmerman has continually sought the right to sue the state for damages, but the late Gov. Nelson Rockefeller three times vetoed legislation similar to that signed by Carey. "When Rockefeller vetoed this three times, he was absolutely wrong," said State Sen. Emmanuel Gold of Forest Hills, N.Y., a leading proponent of the Zimmerman Act in the New York state legislature. "I think Carey did the compassionate thing."
Despite the news, Zimmerman said he had no plans for celebration. "No, no, not yet. I have to go to work tonight," said the $200-a-week doorman. "I can't afford to blow the job. Not yet. But when I can, I'm gonna flip my cap one way and my uniform the other. I can almost taste it."