Growing Number of Wrongful Convictions Points to More Yet to be Revealed
Parker Waichman LLP, a national law firm long dedicated to protecting the rights of individuals, is concerned with the growing number of wrongful convictions that are being discovered, many of which have been tied to a disgraced former detective and a former district attorney’s office. Parker Waichman is looking to assist other individuals who may have been victimized by this disgraced detective or this deplorable practice.
“Batman and Robin” NYPD Team of Detectives Tied to Sketchy Police Practices
Stephen W. Chmil—“Robin”—partner of Louis Scarcella—“Batman,” are popularly known for making many arrests and securing convictions in 1980s Brooklyn, New York. The so-called “Batman and Robin” team worked together for one dozen years as a roving homicide unit that investigated some 500 murders yearly, according to The New York Times. But, the duo’s reputation took a massive hit in 2013 when they were accused of lying and cheating on a high-profile case in which the Brooklyn DA requested, and a judge ruled, that a convicted man, be freed after 23 years in prison.
String of Wrongful Convictions Lead to Ongoing Exonerations
In a horrible case of justice gone awry, a married Brooklyn father of three, spent two decades serving prison time for a murder that at least one-dozen witnesses say he did not commit. Following a The New York Daily Newsreport, his conviction was recounted. Despite overwhelming evidence in his favor, every judge refused to listen, according to The NY Daily News, all citing procedural reasons. In fact, Brooklyn Supreme Justice Raymond Guzman denied him a hearing in 2011. Commissioner Christina Hernandez noted that the victim’s girlfriend admitted that she had lied on the stand.
In another case, a man was released after 23 years in prison when it was found that one of the now-disgraced detectives two told a witness which man to pick in the lineup. The man filed a claim that was settled by the New York City’s comptroller’s office with the City of New York for $6.4 million before the civil lawsuit was filed, according to a prior CBS/AP report.
In another Chmil-Scarcella case, a 16-year-old convicted of a 1998 murder was brought into an interrogation room with Chmil, who had a confession written out and readied for his signature. “Chmil said, ‘Sign it and you go home,’” the convicted man told The New York Times in a telephone interview from prison. He refused; Chmil allegedly crumpled the paper, throwing it into his face. Later, Chmil said that the defendant made a “spontaneous” confession as he left the police station and after his lawyer had left. The defense attorney revealed weaknesses in Chmil’s account, the judge did not allow the confession at trial, a police officer told Chmil that he saw someone else firing a gun at the scene, and the defendant maintains he was not at the scene. The defendant, now 32, has been in prison for 15 years. “I think Chmil is just as much a red flag,” his attorney said, adding, “What Scarcella was doing, Chmil was doing.”
Another victim of Scarcella’s unethical investigative practices, was wrongly convicted of the murder of a four-year-old girl in 1995. According to the man, Scarcella beat him until he confessed. He was finally released after 16 years when he was finally found innocent of the crime.
The new Brooklyn District Attorney (DA) recently dropped an appeal that challenged a 2013 release of a man who served 22 years in prison for a murder conviction that has since been discredited. The man, 55, was released in January when a federal judge found that the questionable case was “reduced to rubble” after an eyewitness recanted, according to The New York Daily News. The judge ordered Brooklyn prosecutors to not retry the man and to dismiss all charges against him and the DA Kenneth Thompson’s office reversed course and “concluded that there is a sufficient possibility that” he was not guilty and, that, going forward with the appeal is “contrary to the interest of justice,” according to court documents. The case was rife with issues, wrote The Daily News.
Most recently, the Brooklyn DA is working to vacate three murder convictions that involve the dubious investigative work of the now-disgraced Scarcella. The three half-siblings were wrongfully imprisoned for a murder case that involved both Scarcella and evidence has been called into question. One of the men, 53, has been in state prison since 1988, suffers from multiple sclerosis, is the only one of the half-brothers still behind bars, and is just weeks from parole. His half-brother, 50, was released on parole in 2007 and, sadly, their brother was 37 when he died in prison 14 years ago. The deceased brother’s exoneration will be received posthumously, and his mother will stand in for him in court, The New York Times wrote.
In another recent case, a now-53-year-old man was convicted in late 1997 of shooting a man to death in the vestibule of a building in Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, New York. He was sent to prison for life to 25 years and has served 17 ½ years of that sentence. During his time, the man’s parents and younger brother died and his then-young daughters have grown and have children of their own. He has always maintained his innocence, although police said he murdered a man in retaliation for a lost dice game the day prior.
Scarcella worked on the case, which was based, in large part, on one eyewitness who identified the man in a line-up that the judge later ruled as inadmissible at trial; however, based on the witness’s statements, the judge allowed an in-court identification. Meanwhile, the conviction review board found a rap sheet on the witness indicated she was arrested on the day prior to the murder and was in custody until the next night, weakening many parts of her testimony in which she implicated the man. The follow-up review also found many situations that went against what the witness, who had also changed her original story, indicated and which strengthened the convicted man’s assertions of innocence. The unit developed a report on the case, sent it to the panel members, and recommended the man be released. The DA agreed and the man was exonerated and released this week.
Pattern of Cajoling Witnesses, Creating Confessions, Bending Police Rules
Court records and interviews reveal a strong pattern of wheedling witnesses and use of inconsistent witness in the pair’s work. A Manhattan nonprofit had previously documented no less than five cases handled by Chmil that have raised issues, more than any other New York City detective in The Exoneration Initiative’s 300 that are deemed “probably wrong,” according to a The New York Times report. Witnesses and convicts say they believe the detectives created confessions, coached witnesses, and persuaded people to match the suspects in custody in cases on which Chmil worked with Scarcella.
The DA probe revealed that, in the team’s 12 years, they would bend the rules, especially if they were hoping to keep prosecutors and defense attorneys in the dark about a suspect, for instance, by hanging on to reports for weeks at a time. A video released in 1992 revealed that the two released a jailhouse informant from custody to meet his girlfriend, shop, and dine out. “We shouldn’t have done it. It was improper,” Mr. Chmil said. “We were reprimanded.” Regarding the defendant in that high-profile case, the officers told the defendant’s attorney “If he didn’t do this, he did something else.”
“These two guys were out of control…. They were slapping around witnesses, bringing in junkies, paying for testimony with crack,” the defense attorney said. Four of the attorney’s clients, who were arrested by the two, were cleared after trial.
Chmil has admitted that he made mistakes during his time on the NYPD. In one case in which he was not teaming with Scarcella, Chmil helped a crack addict avoid jail time by implicating a club owner for a drug-related murder. In 1994, just before his death, the man claimed that Chmil told him to frame the club owner, giving him a script from which to read. The club owner remains in prison.
One of the most horrendous practices in Scarcella’s investigative work was his use of a crack addict who served as a witness in at least six murder cases, The New York Times probe uncovered. The witness is now dead, but was known to have confused key details and to contradict the testimony of other witnesses. One case was dismissed because she never appeared for her cross examination. The witness was also known for using identical verbiage in different cases.
Probes Into Other Convictions Underway, Lead to Additional Releases
As soon as the City settled with one of the wrongly convicted men and his conviction was overturned, probes into at least 12 other convictions associated with Scarcella were implemented, according to CBS News.
In January, Brooklyn DA Kenneth P. Thompson unseated the former DA Charles J. Hynes, who had served 24 years. DA Thompson said he would clean up the DA’s office as part of his campaign promises, beginning his term with 57 of Scarcella’s cases, which were added to another 24 or so more cases that do not appear to be connected to Scarcella, but which all involve potential wrongful convictions that require review. Yet, another 10 cases have been added to those, bringing the total to about 90, The New York Times reported.
The DA has initially convened a three-member panel to review the cases, replacing the controversial Hynes panel. Since, the DA has assigned 10 attorneys, a number of investigators, and support staff to the Conviction Review Unit, bringing on Harvard Law School Professor Ronald S. Sullivan, as the unit’s chief, according to The New York Times .
Legal Help for Those Who May Have Been Wrongly Convicted
Parker Waichman LLP continues to offer free legal consultations to victims who suffered injustice, including wrongful convictions. If you or a loved one were forced into a false conviction, were wrongfully convicted, or spent time in jail or prison for a crime you or your loved one did not commit, please contact the Firm by visiting yourlawyer.com. Free case evaluations are also available by calling 1-800-LAW-INFO (1-800-529-4636).