Sundhe Moses, 37, was granted parole on October 31, 2013, without meeting the usual requirements. Moses didn’t acknowledge guilt, take responsibility, or express regret for the crime for which he was convicted and imprisoned for the past 18 years. Instead, he said he was innocent. While it’s very unusual for a claim of innocence to be an effective parole argument, the evidence supporting his claim was convincing enough for the parole board to grant Moses’ release.
This decision comes in the context of concern over the integrity of a number of convictions in Brooklyn. The New York State Board of Parole has shared a highly public awakening to the possibility that questionable, unethical, and illegal investigative tactics may have tainted not only Moses’s conviction, but many others.
Moses walked out of a New York prison last Tuesday. His was one of 50 convictions based on investigations led by former Brooklyn detective Louis Scarcella, which are now being investigated by the Brooklyn district attorney’s office.
Moses was convicted of shooting 4-year-old Shamone Johnson, who died in a spray of bullets fired by a group of men in a Brownsville public housing community. He confessed to the crime but testified in court that detective Louis Scarcella, now retired, beat the confession out of him.
Other prisoners had made similar claims about Scarcella, but weren’t taken seriously until the high-profile case of David Ranta, which this blog covered in numerous articles, (here), (here) and (here). Ranta was released after 23 years in prison, when his murder conviction was undermined by newly revealed, highly questionable investigative tactics of Scarcella. The case prompted the Brooklyn district attorney’s office to initiate a review of 50 other convictions resulting from investigations by Scarcella.
According to The New York Times (here), 26-year-old junior lawyer, Leah M. Busby tracked down witnesses who had testified against Moses. Sharron Ivory admitted that detectives had coached him on his identification of Moses, and he had changed his testimony after police provided details of the crime to him. Ivory, who is in prison for an unrelated crime, signed a notarized affidavit of his apology to Moses for lying in his testimony. The New York Times article notes that Ivory’s recantation was important, because he was the cousin of the victim.
Another affidavit presented to the parole board was signed by a man who had participated in the crime but was acquitted. The man, who cannot be retried, said Moses was not involved in the shooting.
When Moses first came up for parole two years ago, he apologized for the crime in an effort to gain his freedom. He reverted to his history of claiming innocence when his lawyers found evidence that supported him.
The district attorney who originally tried the case opposed the granting of parole.
Mr. Moses’ lawyers have said that they will wait upon the outcome of the investigation by the district attorney’s conviction integrity unit to determine whether or not they will take Mr. Moses’ innocence claim to court.
Moses says that he is angry over the years taken from him. The citizens of New York should also be angry over evidence that alleged official misconduct has, at the very least, tainted an investigation, unraveled a questionable conviction, and left an important question unanswered, “Who killed Shamone Johnson?”