Exoneration came too late for Darryl Austin, who died while serving his prison term. His brother, Robert Hill, was released after a hearing in state court in Brooklyn, while the third brother, Alvena Jennette, has been free on parole since 2007.
The brothers are the first to have their convictions overturned in an investigation into the work of retired police Detective Louis Scarcella. Scarcella has defended his work, but defense lawyers say he won convictions using testimony from dubious witnesses, sometimes using the same people more than once.
Teresa Gomez testified in six of Scarcella's cases. She was the star witness against Jennette and Austin, who were convicted of a 1985 killing, and testified twice against Hill, who was acquitted of one killing and sentenced to 18 years to life for a second.
“The conviction of Mr. Hill was based primarily, almost entirely, on the testimony of a witness who we now feel to be extremely problematic,” Matthew Hale, an assistant district attorney assigned to the conviction review unit, told the court.
The unit was set up by Kenneth Thompson, who ousted Charles J. Hynes, the longtime district attorney of Kings County, last year. Hale said the unit is now looking at about 90 cases, starting with ones where a possibly innocent person is still in prison.
The investigation has raised questions about Hynes, who became district attorney in 1989 and ran the office through much of Scarcella's career.