Brooklyn Ham-Sandwich: When District Attorneys Convict Innocent People With Tainted Evidence

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Louis Scarcella-- was his attitude "who will miss a few Black men off the streets"?

[Speaking Truth To Power]

Under the new D.A. Ken Thompson, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office has been investigating the cases handled by retired Detective Louis Scarcella and has found damning notes showing he withheld vital exculpatory evidence leading to the murder conviction of Alvena Jennette and Darryl Austin—both African Americans.

As the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office continues its investigation into the former cases of Detective Scarcella, will anyone investigate those police officers and prosecutors who must have been aware of Scarcella’s corrupt conduct?

Some of the cases were initiated when Elizabeth Holtzman was D.A. and many under D.A. Charles Hynes, who was defeated by Thompson last year. Hynes was D.A. for 23 years.

The finding of the notes was revealed during the course of an ongoing investigation over the last 11-months into the cases of Detective Scarcella. The probe is looking into around 50 cases of the former detective, who allegedly routinely engaged in railroading innocent men for murder with tainted evidence and procured testimony during his time as a police officer.

One of the recent findings in the investigation revolves around the Sep. 10, 1985 killing of 34-year-old Ronnie Durant. Mr. Durant was killed during a robbery on Park Place, in Crown Heights, around a reported area of drug activity. He was said to have been shot after being chased by two men.

Detective Bobby Jones, the first officer who handled the case, found three witnesses to the killing. One—the victim’s nephew—fingered two brothers, Alvena Jennette and Darryl Austin, as the perpetrators. However, the other two witnesses stated the brothers were not the killers of Mr. Durant. The then district attorney Elizabeth Holtzman declined to charge the brothers, reportedly, because of serious doubts about the truthfulness of the victim’s nephew. One witness gave the identity of another man, as the murderer, but that person was never charged.

Two years later, when Detective Scarcella took over the cold case, he allegedly solved the murder when a new mysterious witness was found. Theresa Gomez—a reputed drug addicted prostitute—testified the brothers were the killers during the trial and they were convicted. Ms. Gomez’s appearance in several of Detective Scarcella’s murder cases is also a disturbingly curious element of this story.

The brothers were convicted, largely, on the testimony of Ms. Gomez. Moreover, the two witnesses who told police the brothers were not the killers never testified in court. Another troubling aspect is: the notes taken from these witnesses’ interviews were never given to the defense as exculpatory evidence.

The suppressed notes were recently found as the conviction cases of Detective Scarcella are being reviewed, especially, in light of the fraudulent conviction and exoneration of David Ranta. Mr. Ranta was apparently railroaded by Detective Scarcella and spent some 23 years in prison for the murder of a rabbi. This past February the New York City Comptroller reached a $6.4 million settlement—after it was clear that he was wrongly convicted.

Mr. Jennette’s lawyer, Pierre Sussman, called the withholding of evidence “reprehensible.” Mr. Jennette, now free, told The New York Times “They have information that could exonerate people, but they don’t give it to you. There are probably thousands of cases like mine.”

Indeed the pertinent question here is: how many innocent people have been convicted by these scandalous tactics of police and prosecutors?

Now, as the filthy stench of this detective’s work is exposed, many will repeated the old line of Scarcella being just a “bad apple.” But what about those “good” cops who aid and abet the conduct of criminal cops like this detective? Are we to believe that none of the “good” cops knew of the coercive behavior he engaged in to fabricate convictions?

Here is a detective who, reportedly, paid his “witnesses” by allowing them to purchase crack and procure prostitutes in exchange for their tainted testimony. No one in the NYPD knew this repulsive behavior was happening? Or, is this yet another example of the Blue Wall stonewalling justice to protect a conniving criminal in their midst?

This despicable detective should be denounced and excoriated as a social pariah—just for what he did to Mr. Jennette and his brother alone. He robbed Mr. Jeanette of two decades of his life—and contributed to the early death of Mr. Austin.  Based on what we now know, Detective Scarcella’s pension and lifesavings should be seized. But Detective Scarella and the NYPD aren’t the only guilty parties here.

Something stinks here, in regards to the former district attorneys and prosecutors. Ms. Gomez testified in several of Detective Scarcella’s murder cases. Didn’t that seem odd to any of these learned prosecutors? Didn’t the law of probability tell them it was peculiar for one single person to see that many killings?

Ms. Gomez’s testimony in one case—before the case of Mr. Jeannette and Mr. Austin—was found to be faulty. Yet, she continued to be tapped as a key “witness” in other murder cases. Were people in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office sleeping during this period? Or, were they turning the other way while crossing their fingers and hoping for the best?

These former prosecutors should be investigated too—even if it means that the Justice Department needs to get involved. It seems inconceivable that none of these prosecutors knew something was stinky about Detective Scarcella’s cases. Is it possible that they could’ve been that clueless?

The more likely scenario is that these ambitious prosecutors only cared about the upward mobility of their careers. And who cares if one has to use African American men and poor people as stepping-stones to achieve one’s political ambitions? One of the prosecutors is now a judge on Long Island. Is there any wonder why many loathe America’s legal system—and consider it just one big rigged lie?

All across America, these kinds of prosecutorial misconduct have taken place—and African-Americans are usually the primary pawns use by those seeking higher positions in the political society. Unfortunately, America’s justice system usually doesn’t have a damn thing to do with justice. It has to do with winners and losers.

And poor people, especially poor Black people, are often the losers—while some unscrupulous social climbers called “prosecutors” are the winners. Those who secure the most convictions—like the notches on the belt of a cowboy—by hook or crook get invited to the right parties and are supported by wealth when they decide to run for higher office, especially on a “law and order” platform.

Other winners are like DuPont trust-fund heir, Robert Richards, who was recently given probation—even though he was convicted of molesting his three-year old daughter. Yet, the judge gave him probation because she said he would “not fare well” in prison.

This scandalous story should shame every American of conscience. Unfortunately, another worrisome aspect of this outrage is the lack of mainstream coverage here. Shouldn't this story be broadcast and published throughout the media landscape?

We're also faced with the story of Jonathan Fleming who spent 25 years in prison for a 1989 Brooklyn murder—even though receipts and evidence from Orlando Police showed he was in Orlando at the time of that crime. Evidence was withheld in this case as well. How many more men are in prison because of police and prosecutorial misconduct?

Some years ago, Mr. Barry Scheck, and the Innocence Project, started an important trend in reversing the wrongful convictions of many people convicted by either malicious prosecutions or shoddy investigative work. The events, here in New York, this week with the story of Detective Scarella is more proof that work must be continued—and its scope widened. 


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