12th Innocent Man Exonerated By D.A. Ken Thompson's Review Unit

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Michael Waite get the sweet smell of freedom. D.A. Ken Thompson deserves "Nobel prize" for justice

Recently Michael Waite became the 12th person to have a conviction against him overturned as Brooklyn D.A. Ken Thompson continues his review of some 100 cases handled by his predecessor where the validity of the convictions have been called into question.

How many innocent Black men are languishing in America's prisons because of faulty, and, or, shoddy work by prosecutors and police? Moreover, how many were put there because of the rampant, rabid racism in America’s institutions of so-called “law and order?”

Michael Waithe, a 52-year-old Barbadian immigrant, was exonerated for a crime he didn’t commit—a supposed 1986 burglary for which he spent 18 years in prison.

Waite was convicted on the “lone eyewitness” testimony—in a very similar manner as others who’ve been exonerated in Mr. Thompson’s probe into unjust convictions that occurred when the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office was run by Charles Hynes and Elizabeth Holtzman.

Waite, who was a security guard at a Brooklyn building, was fingered by a female tenant who claimed he stole items from an apartment—though it was reportedly hard to ascertain if a burglary had actually happened. However, Waithe was prosecuted on the word of this “lone eyewitness.”

This latest unraveled conviction happened after lawyers connected to Mr. Thompson and the Review Conviction Unit, which was convened in 2014, went to Georgia to interview this “witness” to no crime—who admitted she had a personal dislike of Waithe at the time she accused him. This latest overturned verdict brings to 12 the number of people who’ve been exonerated by the review of Mr. Thompson and his staff. Waithe was the first to be exonerated for a charge other than a murder conviction.

“This hardworking and innocent man came to our country for a better life and ended up being framed and went to prison for a crime he didn’t commit,” D.A. Thompson told Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Neil Firetog. Judge Firetog granted Mr. Thompson’s motion to vacate the 1987 conviction. Because of the conviction, the threat of deportation hung over the head of Mr. Waithe.

The “witness” claimed she saw Mr. Waithe taking items out of the apartment,” said prosecutor Mark Hale at a recent hearing. But there was “scant evidence a burglary had, in fact, been committed.” Mr. Hale acknowledged that this “witness” was “the sole person who was responsible for the conviction of the defendant.”

According to the Conviction Review Unit’s lawyers this witness accused Mr. Waithe “solely because she did not like him, and thought he was responsible for the theft of an auto from her,” Mr. Hale said. “I feel like the guillotine has been lifted from over my head,” said Waithe after hearing that his conviction was rescinded.

But how many more innocent people are there still ensnared in the criminal justice system because of faulty convictions? How many of these folks are there wasting away in prison because of their Black skin color—in nation where being Black is equated with criminality?

The release of Mr. Waithe is a credit to the work of Mr. Thompson and his Conviction Review Unit. It is extremely troubling to realize that 12 wrongful convictions have been found already. Do New Yorkers really need to see anything else to know something is seriously amiss with the way in which “justice” is administered in New York City?

Many will applaud “our system of justice” for the exoneration of Mr. Waithe and for the 11 other men who are walking free. But all of these men would probably still have the specter of guilt hanging over their heads if it wasn’t for good journalism, by the Daily News, and by the proactive actions of Mr. Thompson. America’s “system of justice” needs to be scrutinized for its flaws, failures—and for the racism that is deeply imbedded within it.

The first thing America must admit is that: working-class and poor people, especially Black people, are highly susceptible to miscarriages of justice. Equally problematic is the stark reality that, like many things in America, money often plays a crucial role in deciding who gets “justice” in America. Innocent indigence has led many to be railroaded into prison—while guilty opulence often perverts the very idea that “American justice” is fair and impartial.

Like many things in America, the legal infrastructure is corrupted by partiality in favor of those who have deep pockets. When O.J. Simpson was acquitted of double murder many in White America ranted and raved that he had gotten away with murder. But rich White men every single day get away with an assortment of crimes—and their crimes are usually not even known to the public at large.

A major reason Simpson was able to obtain a favorable verdict for himself was because he could afford the best lawyers to defend him. But Simpson was an exception, as a Black man in America, because his economic status placed him in a position to protect himself from the murder charges that were brought against him by the state. Because he wasn’t just another poor Black man he was able to walk out of court a free man—at, least on those charges. And, as we all know, the system caught up with Simpson and in 2008 he was convicted on "armed robbery" and "kidnapping" charges; he's serving a 33 years sentence.

Most Black men caught up in America's criminal “justice” system are often at the mercy of the state’s legal machinery because of their poverty. Poor Black men are often conned and coerced into plea-bargain deals, and the like, in cases where if they had the money they could get competent legal representations to fight and beat the charges against them.

Americans are taught to exalt their legal institutions as the finest in the world.

Because of this, many are unaware of the serious problems that exist in American courts—especially as it relates to those who are Black, and, or poor who’re daily being devoured by this unjust system. Most Americans don’t understand that perfectly innocent people are far too often convicted because they are from the economic underclass—which is magnified if they are also Black.

The review being done by Mr. Thompson is an important one to rectify the injustices that have already been exposed—and the ones that will likely be found as this probe continues. Shouldn’t we rightly question if similar occurrences haven’t happened in other boroughs in this city? Are we to believe that these kinds of cases weren’t happening in Harlem, Staten Island, and Queens or in the Bronx?

Similar reviews must be conducted in all the other District Attorney counties and indeed nationally.

The exonnerations in this probe should make New York City residents realize that this is surely only the tip of the iceberg. The findings so far in Mr. Thompson’s review scream for a wider review of cases in New York City—especially, with respect to cases where destitute defendants were convicted on weak evidence like a “lone eyewitness” and where questionable actions by police is evident—as was done by retired Sargent Michael Race and retired Detective Louis Scarcella, whose antics led to several of the false convictions that are now being overturned.

We should also ask ourselves if it isn’t safe to assume that a similar pattern of police and prosecutorial abuse, which seems evident in many of these cases, isn’t also playing out all across America.

Black media must dedicate itself to taking a deep look into the cases of Black people who may’ve been victimized by the criminal “justice” system. 

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