Last year, then-Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes announced that his office would review around 50 cases involving former-detective Louis Scarcella. Scarcella’s alleged dirty tricks included coercing confessions, coaching witnesses to lie, and hiding evidence favorable to a suspect.
See also: The Tragedy of Louis Scarcella
Hynes, a 24-year incumbent, lost re-election in the fall largely because of his role in overseeing those and other cases involving possible prosecutorial misconduct. The man who replaced him, Ken Thompson, campaigned on cleaning up Hynes’s mess. Within his first five months on the job, he exonerated three inmates wrongfully convicted during the ’80s and ’90s. Those cases, however, were not part of the Scarcella files.
So last month, around 50 protesters took the steps of city hall, calling on Thompson to speed up his review of the Scarcella cases. Perhaps the voices got to him or perhaps the timing was coincidental. But, as the New York Times reported on Monday night, Thompson has announced the first three exonerees from the Scarcella review: Darryl Austin, Alvena Jennette, and Robert Hill.
Austin and Jennette had been convicted of killing Ronnie Durant in 1985. The investigation went nowhere for two years. Then Scarcella took over the case and he quickly located an eye witness: Theresa Gomez claimed to have seen Austin and Jennette commit the murder.
Meanwhile, prosecutors did not disclose to defense attorneys a police interview with two witnesses familiar with the crime who said that Austin and Jennette were not the killers.
Even though Gomez’s testimony included details inconsistent with the physical evidence, it was enough to persuade the jury.
Gomez, the New York Times revealed last year, offered damning witness statements for six murder cases that Scarcella worked on.
Hill’s case was one of those as well.
Gomez testified that she saw Hill shoot and kill Donald Manboardes on a street corner in 1987. Hill, a drug dealer at the time, said that he found Manboardes, already shot, in the basement of his grandmother’s house. Hill and others had used the basement as a place to do drugs, and people often trafficked in and out, he claimed. He and a couple of friends put the body into a cab and told the driver to drop the body off at a hospital. Hill’s friends, who did not testify at the trial, have since backed his story.
Hill, now 53, is nearing his parole date. Jennette, who is 50, was paroled in 2007. Austin died in prison in 2000 at the age of 37.
Scarcella has consistently denied any wrongdoing.
By the time Thompson took office, the number of Scarcella cases under review had reached 57. There were also more than 20 other non-Scarcella potential wrongful convictions under review. The office has added more cases to the list in the months since. In all, the Conviction Review Unit is currently looking into 90 cases.