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Exoneration in Three Murder Convictions Based on Work of Discredited NYPD Detective

May 6, 2014

Brooklyn district attorney Kenneth P. Thompson is requesting that murder convictions be vacated for three half-brothers convicted on evidence produced by a now discredited homicide detective.

Last year, a Conviction Review Unit was set up to review potential wrongful convictions, including 57 based on the work of retired detective Louis Scarcella. Alvena Jennette, Robert Hill, and Darryl Austin, all convicted in the murder of Ronnie Durant, will be the first ones exonerated since the review began, The New York Times reports.

Scarcella, who retired in 2000, has been accused of wrongdoing including fabricating confessions, abusing witnesses, and failing to turn over exculpatory evidence. He has been blamed for the wrongful conviction of a man who subsequently served 23 years in prison. A New York Times investigation uncovered the use of an unreliable witness, Teresa Gomez, in six separate murder cases. Gomez, a now deceased crack addict, got crucial details wrong in her testimony, which was often contradicted by other witnesses. One case was dismissed when Gomez failed to appear for cross-examination. She testified at the trials of Jennette, Hill, and Austin.

Ronnie Durant’s murder had gone unsolved for two years when Scarcella was assigned the case in 1985. He produced Gomez, who said she had seen Jennette and Austin rob and kill a man. Though she described the incident as a wild shootout, no other gun was found than the one that killed Durant. Two people told the original detective on the case that the brothers were present but did not participate in the killing. Scarcella never shared that information with the defense, according to the Times reports.

Last November, Thompson defeated Charles J. Hynes, who was district attorney for 24 years and who had fought the brothers’ appeals. Since taking office in January, Thompson has assigned 10 lawyers and investigators and support staff to the convictions’ unit. Harvard law professor Ronald S. Sullivan was recently named the unit’s chief, the Times reports.

Scarcella has denied any wrongdoing. Neither he nor his lawyer will comment on the exonerations, according to the Times.

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