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Wednesday, April 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Major Settlement as NYC Convictions Unravel

MANHATTAN (CN) - New York City agreed this weekend to pay $17 million to three men whose murder convictions were overturned, days after prosecutors freed yet another man who 21 years in prison on bogus murder wrap.

The settlement announced Sunday resolves pre-litigation claims for the estates of Darryl Austin, Alvena Jennette and Robert Hill, whose convictions were vacated in May 2014 by the Kings County Supreme Court.

Derrick Hamilton had his conviction tossed Friday in the same court.

All four convictions are tied to former Det. Louis Scarcella, now under investigation by the Brooklyn District Attorney's Conviction Review Unit.

Scarcella has denied any wrongdoing. Efforts to reach him for comment Monday were unsuccessful.

"After a comprehensive review of all three cases and lengthy negotiations with claimants' counsel, my office was able to reach a settlement," New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer said Sunday. "This settlement is in the best interests of all parties."

Stringer said the three beneficiaries of the settlement - half-brothers - spent a combined 60 years in prison before their convictions were vacated in May.

Austin died in prison in 2000. The men's mother, Louise Austin, will get $3.85 million on behalf of his estate, Stringer said. Jennette will get $6 million, while Hill will get $7.15 million.

Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson, elected last year, formed the Correction Review Unit to look into wrongful convictions over the years, especially during the crime-ridden 1980s and '90s. The new office is investigating about 100 convictions, most of them homicides.

So far, the DA's office has won exonerations for 10 different men, all of them black. The sentences spanned between 13 years to 29 years, and the men spent a combined 216 years in prison for crimes they didn't commit.

"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.

He said the unit "carefully analyzed" the crime scene and used scientific and medical evidence to conclude that one eyewitness' account was unreliable in the half-brothers' case.

A DA spokeswoman noted that Thompson has the most overturned convictions in New York state.

In the United States, the DA with the most overturned cases is Dallas County, Texas, prosecutor Craig Watkins.

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