NYC Official Wants State Panel to Probe Wrongful Convictions

By JENNIFER PELTZ | July 20, 2017

A top Brooklyn, N.Y., politician pressed the state Tuesday to set up a special commission to investigate wrongful convictions and pinpoint the problems – and people – to blame.

“Releasing innocent people is not the end. It is only the beginning,” said Borough President Eric Adams, who represents a county where more than two dozen murder and other convictions have been scrapped since 2014. He wants an independent panel to “examine exactly what went wrong here and who’s culpable.”

A representative for Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the proposal would be looked at. Both he and Adams are Democrats.

“From mandating law enforcement videotape custodial interrogations to permitting photo identifications as evidence at trial, Gov. Cuomo has led the way in preventing wrongful convictions and ensuring New York’s criminal justice system works for all,” said spokeswoman Abbey Fashouer. “The administration continues to work with district attorneys across the state to enact new and creative solutions and any proposal advanced will be reviewed.”

Former New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman established a wrongful commission task force in 2009. The group ultimately recommended ideas the state has approved, including expanding defendants’ access to DNA testing to fight convictions, videotaping many police interrogations, and conducting photo lineups so that the officers administering them don’t know which picture is the suspect’s.

Still, the now-retired Lippman said the state needs to “find out what the pattern is” in wrongful-conviction cases as he joined Adams to call for a new commission.

The officials and civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel suggested any commission should look at wrongful convictions statewide. But the issue is especially ripe in Brooklyn, where the district attorney’s office is re-examining about 100 convictions and has already disavowed 23 since the effort ramped up in 2014. Prosecutors have stood by another 58 cases reviewed so far.

Adams, a retired police captain, noted that many cases in Brooklyn’s review are tied to one retired detective, Louis Scarcella. Some people Scarcella helped convict have said he coerced confessions and manipulated witnesses, and prosecutors last week said he’d given misleading testimony in a murder case.

Scarcella, who retired in 2000, has denied any wrongdoing. Prosecutors have reversed convictions in about a half-dozen of his cases but reaffirmed their confidence in three dozen others to date.

Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez noted Tuesday that he and late DA Kenneth Thompson – who prioritized the issue while in office from 2014 until his death last October – took steps to prevent wrongful convictions, including requiring training on witness identifications and evaluating confessions.

Gonzalez, also a Democrat, said he’d be happy to lend expertise to a wrongful-convictions commission and would “continue this important work irrespective of any politically-motivated attacks.”

(Associated Press writer David Klepper contributed to this report from Albany, New York.)

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