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Brooklyn D.A. vacates murder convictions against 3 men, but 1 died in prison

By Frederick H. Lowe The NorthStar News & Analysis | Last updated: May 19, 2014 - 1:00:05 PM

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Brooklyn, N.Y., District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson has vacated the convictions of three half-brothers for two separate murders, but one of the men died in prison before he was exonerated.

District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson
Mr. Thompson announced May 6 that he vacated the convictions of Darryl Austin and Alveana Jenette for the Sept. 10, 1985, robbery and shooting death of Ronnie Durante.

District Attorney Thompson also vacated the conviction of Robert Hill for the shooting death of Donald Manboardes on June 10, 1987.

Separate judges sentenced all three men to 18 years to life behind bars, but Mr. Austin, who had served 14 years, died in prison. Mr. Jenette was paroled in 2007, after serving 20 years.

Mr. Hill had served 27 years before Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Neil Firetog dismissed his sentence. Judge Firetog also dismissed the Jenette and Austin sentences. The 53-year-old Hill walks with a cane because he suffers from multiple sclerosis.

The false convictions have three things in common—the same witnesses testified at all three trials and all of the cases were handled by Louis Scarcella, a retired New York City police detective, whose work now has been discredited. Mr. Scarcella has denied any wrongdoing.

Teresa Gomez, the trial witness in all three murders, was a drug addict who regularly got her facts wrong. Ms. Gomez, who was a witness in six murder cases, is now dead.

“Based on a comprehensive review of these cases, it is clear that testimony from the same problematic witness undermined the integrity of these convictions, and resulted in an unfair trial for each of these defendants. We therefore have moved to vacate these convictions and dismiss the charges in the interest of justice,” said Mr. Thompson, whose official title is Kings County District Attorney.

The Kings County District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit, headed by Harvard law professor Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., investigated the cases. The unit is investigating approximately 90 cases, including 50 to 57 cases investigated by Mr. Scarcella, according to some news reports. The Brooklyn D.A.’s office, however, declined to comment.

In April, the conviction review unit dropped murder charges against Jonathan Fleming who served 25 years for a crime he did not commit. Mr. Scarcella was not involved in the Fleming conviction.