Lawyers: New Brooklyn DA moving too slowly on wrongful convictions

A man cleared of a shooting after 24 years in a New York prison says he has dreamed of freedom "for many nights."
By Frances Burns  |  April 9, 2014 at 2:26 PM
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NEW YORK, April 9 (UPI) -- Advocates say the new district attorney in New York's Brooklyn borough is moving too slowly on cases like Jonathan Fleming, wrongly imprisoned for 24 years.

Fleming was released Tuesday. District Attorney Kenneth Thompson, who took office three months ago, dismissed the murder charge against him because of evidence that Fleming was on vacation in Florida in 1989 when Darryl Rush was shot in a Brooklyn housing project.

The evidence, including a telephone receipt, was found in the case file, suggesting the office had it all along. At Fleming's trial, a prosecutor convinced a jury that Fleming could have flown from Florida to New York, shot Rush and then returned to Disney World.

Lawyers representing prisoners who say they were wrongfully convicted said Thompson needs to do more to rectify injustices done by his office, especially by the man he defeated last year, Charles Hynes. Hynes served as Brooklyn district attorney for 24 years, starting in January 1990, the year Fleming was convicted.

A task force set up by Hynes had been reviewing about 50 cases investigated by Police Detective Louis Scarcella, who is now retired. In March 2013, David Ranta, convicted of killing a rabbi in a botched robbery in 1990, was freed after a federal judge found that Scarcella had coached and intimidated witnesses and failed to keep notes of interrogations.

At the news conference, lawyers said they wrote to Thompson in February asking him to set up a review panel like one created in Dallas in 2006 that would share information between prosecutors and defense lawyers. They said they got a pro forma response.

The Brooklyn panel has announced no results so far. Thompson has said there has been a personnel shakeup.

"The people running it were never the issue," lawyer Ron Kuby, one of New York's best-known lawyers, said. "They haven't adopted best practices. They haven't even adopted good practices."

In the meantime, Fleming says he is happy to be free.

“The day is finally here. I’ve dreamt about it many nights,” he said after Tuesday's hearing, describing plans for dinner with his 72-year-old mother and other family members. “I'm finally a free man."

But the girlfriend who was with him in Florida said she is still frustrated.

“An innocent man did all this time,” she told the New York Daily News. “I was with him and that’s what hurts so bad.”

Taylor Koss, Fleming's lawyer, said the undisclosed evidence "could not possibly have been a mistake."

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