Constitutional Law

2 men poised for release in NYC murder case, but dozens more wrongful conviction claims await new DA

Two New York City men are poised for release at a Thursday court hearing, after serving over 20 years for murders they did not commit, defense lawyers say.

But dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of murder cases in which defendants also say they were wrongfully convicted remain in the pipeline waiting to be addressed by the new district attorney in Brooklyn, reports the New York Times (reg. req.).

The former district attorney there, Charles J. Hynes, created a conviction integrity unit to address the situation, but it was criticized for moving too slowly. Now the pressure is on the new DA, Kenneth P. Thompson, who campaigned for for the job on the issue of wrongful convictions, to do something about them fast.

The scope of the potential problem, due to pressure to resolve cases during a spate of violent crime during the crack epidemic of the 1980s and early 1990s, reflects both the urgent nature of the situation and the resources needed to deal with it, the newspaper says. Among the claimed issues that need to be addressed are discredited detectives, coerced confessions, untrustworthy or intimidated witnesses and prosecutorial misconduct.

“The term ‘tip of the iceberg’ is clichéd, but if ever it was applicable, it’s applicable to this situation,” chief lawyer Steven Banks of the Legal Aid Society told the Times. “There’s no question that this is going to be painstaking work to undo a problem that was years in the making.”

A New York Daily News article discusses the pending release of Anthony Yarbough, 39, and Sharrif Wilson, 37, whose lawyers say they have been exonerated by DNA evidence. Both were teenagers when Yarbough called 911 in 1992 to report the slayings of his 40-year-old mother, 12-year-old half-sister and her 12-year-old friend. A recent test report says DNA found under the fingernails of slain mom Annie Yarbough matched evidence from an unsolved 1999 murder, suggesting that the same individual committed both crimes, with the second slaying taking place after Yarbough and Wilson had already been in prison for years.

“We’re hoping the district attorney will see his way to do the right thing in this case,” said Wilson’s attorney, Adam Perlmutter.

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