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NYC to pay $17M for wrongful convictions of 3 brothers

The work of former Brooklyn homicide detective Louis Scarcella has now cost New York City $24 million.

By
Frances Burns

NEW YORK, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- New York City has agreed to pay $17 million to compensate for the convictions of three brothers based on police work by a former detective.

A judge reversed the convictions of Robert Hill, Alvena Jennette and Darryl Austin, who have the same mother, in May. Hill, who has multiple sclerosis, was released after almost three decades in prison, Jennette was free on parole, while Austin died in prison.

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City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, who announced the agreement Sunday, said that settling the cases would cost the city less than going to court.

"The 1980s were a difficult time in our city's history, and in a certain way we are sort of unearthing the tangled history of that period in our court system today," Stringer told The New York Times.

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All three brothers were found guilty based on detective work by Louis Scarcella, who was assigned to the homicide unit in Brooklyn. Jennette and Austin were convicted in 1987 of a 1985 killing, while Hill was charged with two others and found guilty of one.

A number of cases cleared by Scarcella are among those being reviewed by the current Brooklyn district attorney, Kenneth Thompson. Teresa Gomez, a crack addict discovered by Scarcella, testified against all three of the brothers.

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At the time, the city had a high rate of homicide and other violent crimes.

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The city has now agreed to pay $24 million to defendants in cases investigated by Scarcella. David Ranta, who spent 23 years in prison for the murder of a rabbi, was cleared in 2013 after a judge found that Scarcella steered witnesses to identify him. The city settled with Ranta in February for $6.4 million.

Another man, Derrick Hamilton, who was paroled after 20 years in prison, was cleared of murder on Friday.

Stringer acknowledged that Thompson's review of convictions in the Brooklyn D.A.'s office under his predecessor, Charles Hynes, could lead to more litigation.

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Pierre Sussman, representing Jennette, Hill and Austin's estate, said avoiding a drawn-out legal fight is in his clients' best interest. He also said the amounts involved, $7.15 million to Hill, $6 million to Jennette and $3.85 million to Austin's heirs, are larger based on per-year compensation, than some that have been decided by juries.

"That speaks to the strength of these cases, and that may be the Scarcella factor at work."

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