On March 31, we shared a story of a wrongful conviction being overturned after the defendant spent seven years in prison for a crime she did not commit. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system puts more innocent people behind bars than some would like to admit. Sometimes, people spend decades unjustly locked up, as in the case of a New York man who is expected to be set free on or around April 8 after nearly 25 years in prison.
The man was convicted in 1989 of shooting another man outside a Brooklyn housing project. The investigation was conducted by police at a precinct that at the time employed a-now notorious detective. Dozens of the cases he worked in his career have since been reopened due to questions about his methods. The detective did not work on this case, but it is possible that his methods were used by other detectives at the precinct.
In this case, the conviction was based in large part on statements from a witness that appeared to point to the defendant as the murderer. But that witness later recanted her testimony. She was facing felony charges of her own at the time, which were dropped in exchange for her testimony. It could be that police pressured her to tell them what they wanted to hear — rather than the truth — by using the threat of prison time against her.
In addition, the conviction contradicted telephone records that indicated the defendant was not in New York when the shooting occurred.
Though the Brooklyn District Attorney declined to comment, sources indicate that he will ask a judge to set aside the wrongful conviction on April 8. That should lead to the defendant being freed from prison.
While it is frustrating to hear about a man unjustly spending nearly a quarter-century in prison, we can take comfort in the fact that this terrible error was eventually admitted by authorities. It is also a reminder that having an experienced defense attorney if you ever are charged with a crime can make the difference between a conviction and a not guilty verdict or dismissal.
Source: WNBC-TV, “Brooklyn DA Expected to Clear Man Who Spent Nearly 25 Years in Prison on Murder Conviction,” Jonathan Dienst, April 7, 2014