The Brooklyn district attorney said Friday his office would ask a judge to expunge the convictions of three men who spent decades in prison for the arson death of a subway worker in 1995, saying they were the victims of a police detective who obtained a false confession. .
The men, James Irons, Thomas Malik and Vincent Ellerbe, were convicted as teenagers and were each sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. Mr. Ellerbe was paroled in 2020, but the other two men remained incarcerated, according to a statement from District Attorney Eric Gonzalez.
“The findings of a comprehensive, multi-year re-investigation into this case leave us unable to confirm the convictions of the accused persons,” Gonzalez said in a press release. The men were due to appear in court on Friday afternoon.
Mr Gonzalez said the poor convictions were the fault of the case’s lead detectives, Louis Scarcella and Stephen Chmil. He said Mr Scarcella pressured the accused teenagers to confess, failed to disclose the flimsy nature of witness identifications and ignored factual inconsistencies in confessions and evidence.
Mr. Scarcella, who retired in 1999, handled some of Brooklyn’s most high-profile crimes in a unit that oversaw more than 500 homicides a year.
His reputation plummeted after one of his most famous investigations – into the murder of a Hasidic rabbi in Williamsburg – unfolded in 2013 and defense attorneys accused him of setting up a suspect . Since then, more than a dozen convictions he helped secure have been overturned. Mr. Scarcella repeatedly said he had done nothing wrong.
The murder of subway worker Harry Kaufman, 50, was tragic even in a city then plagued by crime. Mr. Kaufman was doused with flammable liquid inside a coin-operated booth in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn that was set on fire.
The liquid ignited with such force that the cabin was blown away, spraying shattered glass, charred insulation and splintered wood across the Kingston-Throop Avenue station. Officers found an M-1 carbine near the wreckage. Mr. Kaufman died a few days later from his injuries.
On Friday, a lawyer for Mr Irons, David Shanies, called the pending exonerations “the culmination of a years-long process” by lawyers for the three men and by investigators from a conviction review unit at the office. of the Brooklyn District Attorney, who has overseen the overturning of 33 convictions since 2014.
Ronald L. Kuby, a veteran defense attorney who represented Mr. Malik in his original trial and represents Mr. Malik and Mr. Ellerbe in the exoneration proceedings, said in an interview that the initial injustice was ” so far that Scarcella was the hero and I was the villain.