New York report finds 25 wrongful convictions, most Black men
Twenty-five wrongful convictions in King’s County cost the accused a combined 426 years behind bars in cases that featured various levels of misconduct from police, prosecutors and defence lawyers [File: Mark Lennihan/The Associated Press]
A groundbreaking report released Thursday details 25 wrongful convictions by The Kings County District Attorney’s office (KCDA) in Brooklyn, New York, costing people 426 combined years behind bars.
Entitled “426 Years: An Examination of 25 Wrongful Convictions in Brooklyn, New York” (PDF) released in conjunction with the Wilmer Hale law firm and the Innocence Project, marks the first time a US District attorney has conducted a comprehensive review of their office’s wrongful convictions, the Innocence Project’s Senior Litigation Counsel Nina Morrison said in a release.
“This report shows the devastating human toll caused by these miscarriages of justice – and how many of them could have been prevented before they became wrongful convictions.”
Almost five centuries
The 25 wrongful convictions came from across 20 cases that were reviewed by the Conviction Review Unit (CRU), established in 2014. Their findings highlight the significant racial disparity in wrongful convictions. Of the 25, only one was white.
#BREAKING: Today, we are sharing the findings of my Conviction Review Unit in a report titled “426 Years: An Examination of 25 Wrongful Convictions in Brooklyn, New York,” a first-of-its-kind study conducted with @innocence and @wilmerhale. https://t.co/AwjZ1TeWFs pic.twitter.com/M095Q0ndyb
— Eric Gonzalez (@BrooklynDA) July 9, 2020
The 25 were convicted on various charges, including burglary, arson, rape, kidnapping, robbery and murder in various degrees. Scott Moore and Tony Stevens were convicted of murder, kidnapping, robbery and weapons charges in 1985 and sentenced to the maximum allowable penalty – 25 years to life in prison.
“The CRU recommended vacating their convictions, which were unsupported – and in many instances directly contradicted – by physical or testimonial evidence. Moore served 29 years in prison and Stevens died in prison after 15 years,” the report noted.
Brian Davidson was convicted in 1987 of first-degree rape, sodomy, two counts of coercion and one count of second-degree robbery. He was sentenced to between 19 and 57 years and spent 30 years behind bars.
The CRU recommended his conviction be vacated for reasons including the fact that the “main witness for the prosecution had misidentified Davidson as one of her assailants”.
The cases featured various levels of misconduct from police, prosecutors and defence lawyers, the CRU found. These included false or unreliable confessions, witness misidentifications, credibility issues with witnesses and the plausibility of confession.
For example, no evidence suggested Scott Moore nor Tony Stevens, who were both 16 at the time of the crimes, “could drive, had ever driven a car before, had access to a car, or had a license.
Yet to believe their confessions, one would have to accept that the two boys drove continuously for hours in traffic during the day from Queens to Brooklyn – while holding their victim in the backseat of the car at gunpoint – and then later gassed up the vehicle at a self-serve filling station and parallel parked on a street,” the report said.
Some cases even featured evidence that was withheld.
The CRU examined “files from the [Kings County District Attorney] and [New York Police Department] as well as other sources, the CRU found that in ten of the cases, favorable – and in some cases, highly exculpatory – evidence appeared not to have been disclosed to the defense, thus keeping juries from having critical information before issuing their verdicts,” the report noted.
“In these cases, failure to disclose such evidence deprived the affected convicted persons of fair trials.”
The people whose convictions have been recommended for overturning and charges dropped will need to have a judge do so.
If a judge rules in their favour, their cases will be sealed from public view and their records will be cleared of the charges.
Who was George Floyd? (3:21)
The results come at a time when the US is dealing with racial inequality in its criminal justice system, following the alleged murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and several other high-profile killings of unarmed Black men.
“I am mindful that we are publishing this Report at a time when the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the racial violence it has called up have filled so many Americans – including me – with anger and despair”, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said in the report.
“For us to build community trust, especially now, when so many people in this country are expressing anger and despair with the system, we must reckon with and be transparent about the mistakes of the past”, he concluded.