Conviction from 1991 murder case thrown out; detective used questionable tactics
(CBS New York) NEW YORK, NY – A 1991 murder case linked to a now-retired NYPD detective accused of using questionable tactics was tossed by a Brooklyn judge Friday.
As CBS2’ Sonia Rincon reported, Derrick Hamilton had served 21 years in prison before being paroled in 2011. The decision on Friday cleared his conviction.
Hamilton, 49, held his daughter, Maia, as he arrived in court for the good news.
“From the day I was arrested, I mean, to now, I’ve maintained my innocence,” Hamilton said. “And the same evidence that was there then is here now.”
The only evidence that put Hamilton behind bars for the murder of Nathaniel Cash in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn was the testimony of an eyewitness. She recanted right after the trial, saying Detective Louis Scarcella made her lie, 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported.
“He was the person that took a non-witness to the precinct, and forced her to say that she’d seen a murder that she did not see,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton further said that when Scarcella arrested him in New Haven, “He kissed me on the cheek like you see in the mafia movies and whispered in my ear that I was going to prison for a murder he knew I did not commit,” WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb reported.
Hamilton said he had several witnesses who prove his alibi that he was in Connecticut at the time of the murder.
The Hamilton case was the latest involving Scarcella, a once-decorated detective who has been accused of coaching witnesses, coercing confessions and trading drugs for testimony in multiple cases.
It’s the latest case involving the disgraced retired detective to be re-investigated by the Brooklyn DA’s offices Integrity Unit… which has found key witnesses were manipulated… and simply not credible.
Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson‘s office last year began a review of dozens of cases from the 1980s and 1990s that Scarcella investigated.
“Wrongful convictions ultimately destroy the lives of the people who are wrongfully convicted, as well as their families, and also do great damage to the integrity of the justice system,” Thompson said in a statement. “The people of Brooklyn elected me to ensure that justice is done and that is what my decision to vacate Derrick Hamilton’s conviction reflects. The Conviction Review Unit carefully analyzed the scene of the crime and based on the scientific and medical evidence concluded that the sole eyewitness’ account was unreliable.”
A judge agreed even dropped the original charge.
It was a bittersweet victory for Hamilton. He is now a paralegal, having spent the better part of the last two decades studying the law — determined to clear his name.
“I tell him all the time that you are an inspiration because you believed in yourself,” said Hamilton’s wife, Nicole Hamilton.
“You believed that one day the system would come into existence and see that you’re innocent, and will prove that to the world, and today is the day.”
It also helped that the block of Monroe Street, and the building where the murder happened near Nostrand Avenue, has not changed much since 1991.
Investigators were able to come back to the scene, and determine the forensic and ballistic evidence showed it couldn’t have happened the way alleged eyewitness Jewel Smith said it did.
Lawyers on both sides now agree it was all Detective Scarcella’s story, and that Smith wasn’t even here.
Smith says she actually at a Key Food store that stood nearby back then. Hamilton said Smith was just as much a victim as he was.
“I’ve spoken to her throughout the years. She’s supported my effort to get out,” Hamilton said. “She wrote to the governor, she wrote to the parole board, she wrote to everybody she could.”
Thompson has cleared several defendants Scarcella helped put away.
It’s one of the nation’s most ambitious efforts to determine whether old cases were handled properly.
“To date there has been no finding by any judge, nor has there been a statement by any prosecutor, to sustain the sensational claims that have appeared in the press that Detective Scarcella contributed to any person’s wrongful conviction,” his lawyers said in a statement Friday.
But Hamilton said Scarcella belongs in prison. Hamilton also said he is determined to help others who don’t.
He and his supporters wore a hat Friday that read, “Wrongfully convicted” and “Victims of Detective Scarcella.”
“I have a voice, one I didn’t have when I was in prison,” said Kevin Smith, who was wrongfully imprisoned for 27 years.
Hamilton also said he now looks forward to taking a vacation.
“After the vacation, I’ll come back and try to work on some more cases,” said Hamilton, who has done legal work for similar cases in Brooklyn. “Today means more than just my victory, we have a lot of wrongful convictions, people in jails across the nation. I think that we need to get a concentrated effort to help people who are innocent get out of prison.”