Brooklyn Deserves a New D.A.

Why the 23-year reign of Charles Hynes must end

There is no denying that Hynes has done good things. In certain ways, he has proved himself an enlightened district attorney. But when you start talking to people dealing with him today, you discover a man they perceive as disengaged—at best—from the daily operations of his office, one who appears to have fostered a culture in which winning at all costs is acceptable, even if that cost is measured in prison time for an innocent man. As another longtime Hynes watcher told the Voice, "He's not so deeply involved in the management of the office as he used to be. He's a fundamentally decent guy who has been cruising. And the longer you do something, the more likely you are to screw up."

A leadership vacuum in any bureaucracy tends to yield several by-products, including fear and ambition. At the Brooklyn D.A.'s office, the fear is of displeasing the boss, and the ambition, presumably, is about replacing him. Taken together, the result has been toxic, according to Andrew Stoll, a Brooklyn criminal and civil lawyer. Stoll says Hynes's prosecutors "are totally afraid of exercising any discretion, of standing up and saying: 'This case is bullshit. I'm not prosecuting this.' The idea of going to a Brooklyn prosecutor with compelling evidence of innocence is ridiculous. They will never dismiss anything. They want to seem like they are tough on crime. Everyone is afraid of the next New York Post headline."

Stoll says the tension between wanting to appear aggressive and knowing they are pushing weak cases plays out in prosecutors' constant adjournments or continuances. "They make believe they are prosecuting," he says. "They ask for a one-week adjournment, and it turns into a month and a half. The purpose is to wear defendants down and get them to plead out, and make it appear as if the prosecutors are working. People's lives get destroyed."

Some view Hynes’s indictment of child-welfare caseworker Chereece Bell as a case of pandering to the media spotlight.
Courtesy NY1
Some view Hynes’s indictment of child-welfare caseworker Chereece Bell as a case of pandering to the media spotlight.
Ronald Bozeman spent a year in jail wrongly accused of a robbery in a case rife with errors and stonewalling.
Wire image
Ronald Bozeman spent a year in jail wrongly accused of a robbery in a case rife with errors and stonewalling.

Here are some of those people:

Darrell Dula, Damien Crooks, Jawara Brockett, and Jamali Brockett

In the spring of 2011, Hynes's office charged the four African-American men with torturing and sexually abusing an Orthodox Jewish girl for nine years. "If you are a pimp, we will catch you, and when we do, we will aggressively prosecute you and seek the maximum sentences," Hynes announced at a press conference on June 29, 2011, where the indictments were unveiled.

That bluster was gone a year later when Hynes was forced to dismiss the charges after it became clear that his prosecutors had failed to tell the defense that the victim had recanted her claims. His office also apparently failed to fully check out the victim's background before indicting the men.

Dula has since sued Hynes. His lawyer, Jonathan Sims, tells the Voice: "Certainly it concerns me that he was up there saying those things. Was he aware that there was a recantation? If he was aware of evidence that had not been turned over, that has to be investigated."

Lauren Hersh, a prosecutor in the case, resigned. Dula and Crooks were released 10 months after their indictment.

Jerry Schmetterer, Hynes's spokesman, contends prosecutors actually uncovered the errors themselves. "As soon as we learned there was a problem with this case, we asked the court to release Dula, and we eventually dismissed the case," Schmetterer says.

Sims is skeptical of this claim. "Someone in that office would have had to have known about it around the time of indictment," Sims counters. "You would have had to be willfully blind not to have known about it."

Teshonn Hendrix

Convicted in the October 1, 1997, murder of Kendall Isler, during a drug-deal-turned-robbery, Hendrix is also suing Hynes's office. In this case, prosecutors relied entirely on the word of Damien Toler, a career criminal who had been arrested 20 times in 10 years and was facing charges for an unrelated gunpoint robbery.

A jury in December 2010 needed less than 30 minutes to acquit Hendrix. He had been jailed for nearly 600 days, was injured in three fights, and sustained a serious infection of his left foot.

"They indicted him solely on Toler's word," Hendrix's lawyer Gregory Zenon wrote. "There was no other evidence. . . . A simple and proper investigation would have revealed my client was innocent."

Jeffrey Marshall

No one personifies the loyal Hynes lieutenant better than Michael Vecchione, a longtime member of the Brooklyn D.A.'s office and now chief of the Rackets Division. In 2003, a federal judge ordered the release of Marshall, who had served 10 years for robbery and murder, when it emerged that Vecchione made a secret deal with a key witness but never disclosed it.

Bruce Barket, Marshall's lawyer at the time, says the witness was claiming Marshall had made a jailhouse confession in the case. Vecchione pulled him out of jail and promised a deal if he testified against Marshall at trial that day.

The witness, Cicero Murphy, and Vecchione denied there was any secret deal that day or in two subsequent trials involving Marshall. Barket later found a signed agreement between the two men that led to a favorable plea deal for Murphy.

As Barket recalls it, he was cross-examining Vecchione in a habeas corpus hearing when the judge, Edward Korman, cut him off. "He says, 'Wait a minute,' takes the documents, and says to Vecchione, 'Counsel, how do you reconcile this?' And Vecchione shrugs and says, 'It is what it is, judge.'"

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