May 22 (UPI) -- A Suffolk County, N.Y., judge vacated the conviction of a 62-year-old New York man who served 33 years for the murder of a 14-year-old girl in 1975. Prosecutors said the conviction was an error.
Keith Bush never strayed from his story that police beat a confession out of him at 17. He was convicted in 1976 and released on parole in 2007.
"Mr. Bush, I cannot give you back that which was taken from you in the 1970s," Suffolk County Judge Anthony Senft said in a courtroom in Riverhead, N.Y., Wednesday afternoon. "But I can give you back your presumption of innocence."
After an investigation by the newly created Conviction Integrity Bureau created by District Attorney Timothy Sini, it was discovered police concealed evidence of another suspect in the case, USA Today reported. Prosecutors believe that person, who is now dead, could have been the killer.
In the district attorney's motion, the office said Bush spent another 12 years in prison before being paroled because he continued to deny that he committed the crime.
Over the course of Bush's trying to prove he was innocent, the main witness against him recanted in 1980 and a 2006 DNA test done on human tissue found under the fingernails of the dead girl did not match his but another unknown person.
"The worst thing a prosecutor or any member of law enforcement can do is go forward with a case when they have reasonable doubt about that person's guilt," Sini said. "Here they had more than reasonable doubt."
The Suffolk County Police Department said withholding evidence would lead to sanctions in the department.
"While we cannot speak to the procedures or technology in place in the 1970s, the present leadership of the Suffolk County Police Department always works to ensure that best practices are utilized," the department told Newsday. "Any investigator that intentionally withholds evidence is subject to criminal and administrative penalties."
The district attorney's office had fought Bush's previous efforts to clear his name until Sini took office in 2018 and created the bureau.
"In this case, I thought I would ultimately get somebody to listen," Bush's attorney Adele Bernhard said. "It was just too heartbreaking."
August Stahl and Dennis Rafferty, retired homicide detectives who helped originally investigated Bush's case, said he still he is guilty.