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Exoneree Blasts Triple Homicide Conviction

BROOKLYN (CN) - A man exonerated after spending 22 years in prison for the murder of his mother, sister and her friend has filed a federal complaint against New York City.

DNA evidence proved that "the real killer got away and went on to kill again seven years later," Antonio Yarbough says in the Tuesday lawsuit, filed one year after his release from prison along with fellow exonerated inmate Sharrif Wilson.

On June 18, 1992, Yarbough came home to find his mother, Annie Yarbough; 12-year-old half-sister, Chavonn Barnes; and her friend, Latasha Knox, also 12, dead in his apartment in a housing project on Coney Island.

"They had been tied up, stabbed and garroted with electrical cords" that the murderer got by cutting off electrical cords from appliances in Yarbough's apartment, according to the 84-page complaint.

Yarbough, then 18, says he immediately went to police to help find the killer, but suddenly found himself accused of triple murder.

He says police coerced Wilson, 15 at the time, to make a videotaped confession and forced Yarbough to sign a written statement that police drafted. The statement contained information about the murders that Yarbough couldn't have known because he wasn't there, he says.

Officers allegedly deprived the two boys of sleep, slapped them around, and threatened them with guns and violence during hours-long interrogations.

Since both Yarbough and Wilson were gay and friends, police concocted a theory that the pair killed Yarbough's mother because she disapproved of their relationship, according to the complaint.

But Yarbough says he and Wilson were just friends and that his mother accepted his sexual orientation.

Wilson went to trial first and told the jury that his videotaped confession was false. Prosecutors then swung a deal where his 27-year sentence would be dropped to nine years if he testified against Yarbough.

Yarbough then went through two trials. The first ended in a hung jury. He got 75 years to life after a second trial in 1994.

Exoneration came after Yarbough asked for DNA testing in July 2010. Three years later, DNA under the fingernails of Yarbough's mother matched those found in the vagina of a woman raped and killed in 1999, while Yarbough and Wilson were in prison.

The suspect remains at large.

Yarbough and Wilson were freed on Feb. 6, 2014.

Claiming that his sexual orientation made him a target, Yarbough says one of the detectives "slammed down" a Polaroid picture of his mother's mutilated corpse during the interrogation and told him: "You did this. Only a faggot would do this."

One of the cops also allegedly told Yarbough, "I will blow your brains out if you don't make a statement." He says they also called him a "crack baby."

Another unknown detective said if Yarbough just signed the confession police wrote out for him, the interrogation would end, that the officer would tell the judge that the signature didn't match his handwriting and that it was false, according to the complaint.

Tired and wanting to go home, Yarbough says he signed it.

Detectives then allegedly fabricated evidence by claiming they returned to the crime scene and recovered two serrated steak knives on the counter and on the floor by a stove, even though the actual weapon was never recovered.

He says detectives then coached Wilson and told him that he "had to convince the ADA that he and Antonio really committed the murders."

Kept awake for 24 hours, Wilson testified on tape that the steak knives were used in the crime, and "recited details of the crime scene that the police had fed him."

He also falsely claimed that the murders "were the result of an argument between Antonio and his mother over bringing Wilson to the apartment."

A medical examiner failed to testify that the time of death didn't coincide with the fact that witnesses saw Yarbough and Wilson outside the building after a night out, according to the complaint.

They allegedly sought to suppress their false confessions during their trials, but were denied.

Though Wilson testified truthfully at his own trial "that he and Antonio had nothing to do with the murders," he changed his tune upon conviction when prosecutors promised him a deal if he testified against Antonio, according to the complaint.

Wilson, "who was desperate and terrified after almost two years in juvenile facilities on Rikers Island, reluctantly agreed to testify falsely against Antonio," the complaint states.

With Wilson's false testimony, Yarbough says his second trial ended in a conviction.

The story of another witness changed as well, Yarbough said, point out that Clara Knox at first told cops that she saw Yarbough's mother using intravenous drugs while one of the victims, her 12-year-old granddaughter, Knox, was asleep in the next room.

At trial, Knox allegedly falsely testified that Yarbough's mother and the man were talking politics and not using drugs. Yarbough says Knox was acting on the advice of authorities who told her not to testify about the drug use, since it could lead to her facing child-endangerment charges.

Yarbough says he now lives in Queens and works at the New York Hilton Hotel, "but struggles every day" with the loss of his family, his wrongful imprisonment, the two trials he endured and the 22 years he spent in Attica because of defendants' "cowardly and dishonest conduct."

His lawsuit does not seek specific damages for civil rights violations.

Manhattan-based attorney Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma represents Yarbough with Brooklyn attorney Philip Smallman.

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