Retired NYPD homicide detective Louis Scarcella is currently having all of his convictions scrutinized by the Brooklyn district attorney's office after evidence surfaced that strongly suggested he'd framed an innocent man for murder. For those who don't know, Eric Ranta was convicted in 1990 of murdering a Brooklyn rabbi. However, he was exonerated and freed last March due to some of the most ghastly police misconduct that has ever been uncovered. Scarcella is accused of not only fabricating Ranta's confession, but of coaching a witness into picking Ranta out of a lineup.
Well, the investigation took another ghastly turn earlier today, when Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson announced he'd discovered evidence that suggests Scarcella failed to turn over evidence suggesting that the wrong people were on trial for a 1985 murder.
Back in September 1985, Ronnie "Pepper" Durant was gunned down in Crown Heights. In 1987, Alvena Jennette and his brother, Daryl "Uni" Austin, were convicted of Durant's murder and sentenced to 18 years to life in prison. Earlier today, Thompson revealed that his Conviction Review Unit had discovered notes that suggested that two different people were the actual culprits.
The notes show that the first detective assigned to the case, Bobby Jones, interviewed a witness who said that the brothers helped rob Mr. Durant but that another man shot him. Another witness interviewed at the Brooklyn courthouse seven months after the killing said Mr. Jennette and Mr. Austin were standing on a nearby stoop when it happened but had nothing to do with the shooting, the notes revealed.Jones had previously interviewed Durant's nephew, who fingered Jennette and Austin as the killers. However, the case went cold because then-Brooklyn DA Elizabeth Holtzman had doubts about the nephew's character. The case landed on Scarcella's desk two years later, and Scarcella put more weight on the nephew's claims. Relying on his testimony and that of Teresa Gomez, a witness whom Scarcella frequently used in his cases, Jennette and Austin were tried and convicted. Austin died in prison, while Jennette was released on parole in 2007.
The witness named another suspect and even gave Detective Jones the full name and whereabouts of the person who had the gun used in the killing.
“Uni was there, but he did not do anything,” Detective Jones wrote after showing a group of photos to the witness. “Alvina Jannette standing on stoop. Did not do anything.”
The case was one of several reopened after the dubious history of Scarcella and Gomez came to light. Gomez helped win convictions in several of Scarcella's cases even though her testimony had more holes in it than a Manhattan street.
Now it turns out that Jones' notebook wasn't in the case file. It is inconceivable that Scarcella didn't review it at some point. And Scarcella may not be the only one with some explaining to do. Legal experts say that even if Scarcella sat on the notes, the man who tried the case, Eric Bjorneby, was ultimately responsible for ensuring they were turned over to the defense. Bjorneby is now a judge in Nassau County, and under New York judicial conduct rules he could still face discipline even though the violation happened almost three decades ago.
For Jennette, this comes as cold comfort. He's maintained from the start that Scarcella framed him, but was gobsmacked to find out that the NYPD may have had the name and address of the real perp. He's retained Pierre Sussman, the same man who helped exonerate Ranta. Scarcella's lawyers maintain that Bjorneby is the real bad guy here, and that there is no evidence Scarcella ever had the notebook. I'd like to know where these lawyers shop, because I don't think you can buy cojones that big--even in New York.
It was clear beyond any doubt even before today that Scarcella belongs in an orange jumpsuit. If this is even half true, he deserves to spend the rest of his life in one.