On Monday, a Brooklyn Supreme Court jury needed just nine minutes to decide that Derrick Deacon was innocent of the crime that kept him behind bars for 24 years.
Chalk it up as another wrongful conviction coming out of the Kings County District Attorney’s office. And as testimony from Deacon’s appeal effort revealed, this one was dirty.
A witness named Colleen Campbell had known that Deacon wasn’t the man who murdered 16-year-old Anthony Wynn in a Flatbush apartment building in April 1989. But when she testified at his trial back then, she said she wasn’t sure.
She lied, she testified in Deacon’s retrial, because investigators threatened to have her children taken away if she didn’t.
Campbell came face to face with the shooter moments after the murder. She’d been in the hallway to pick up some baby food from her brother’s apartment when the gunman ran past.
She told police the man was definitely not Deacon. She knew Deacon’s face well. He was homeless and often walked through her building asking for work.
But soon after, investigators — from the police department and/or the D.A.’s office — came to her home and ordered that she provide “vague” testimony at the trial, she recalled two decades later. They mentioned finding bleach at her apartment and calling child services.
When Campbell took the stand, she said that she couldn’t tell whether or not the man who ran past her was Deacon. Another witness identified Deacon as the shooter. Deacon was convicted based on the account of that single eye witness.
He may not have gotten his chance at freedom if not for a gang leader named Emile Dixon. Dixon, leader of the “Patio Crew” who was convicted of murder and drug dealing in 2003, had known Deacon from around the neighborhood.
While looking through his own case file, Dixon stumbled on a 2001 interview between FBI agents and Trevor Brown, a Patio Crew member cooperating in the federal investigation against the gang.
Brown told the agents that another gang member named Pablo told him about shooting someone “in front of 105 Lincoln Road,” which is where Wynn was killed. “Someone named ‘FIRE’ who looked just like PABLO got arrested for the shooting,” the FBI report stated. Deacon’s nickname was “Fire.”
Through a relative, Dixon sent the files to Deacon, jump starting his appeal process. In 2012, an appeals court granted him a new hearing.
“After the murder, people who later became known as the Patio Crew and other people who lived in the area openly acknowledged Fire’s mistaken arrest for the Wynn murder,” Brown wrote in an affidavit for Deacon’s case. “However, nobody dared inform the authorities for fear that Pablo’s implication would cause Pablo and people associated with him to take revenge.”
According to Rebecca Freedman, a lawyer for the Exoneration Initiative who helped represent Deacon in his appeal, Detective Louis Scarcella was not involved in this case. The Brooklyn D.A.’s office is currently reviewing 50 cases that Scarcella handled because of recent evidence showing that he often coerced false confessions out of suspects. Hynes lost re-election this month in part because his reputation has been tarnished by a string of potential wrongful convictions that came to light in recent years. Jabar Collins, who served 15 years for a murder he has since been acquitted of, is suing Hynes for $150 million in damages.
Freedman notes that prosecutors worked hard to keep from having Deacon’s case added to the list.
“They fought us tooth and nail every step of the way,” she says.
After Deacon’s legal team sought a new trial based on the FBI interview, the prosecutors countered that the evidence at the original trial was clear and strong. They pointed out that the jury reached a verdict after only three hours of deliberation.