Brooklyn (NY) Supreme Court Justice Raymond Guzman vacated the murder convictions of Antonio Yarbough, 39, and Sharrif Wilson, 37, Thursday after the two had served 21 years in prison for a 1992 triple murder—that of Mr. Yarbough’s mother, his twelve-year-old sister, and her friend. The two men, who were 15 and 18 at the time of the murders, have long claimed they did not commit them. Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson dismissed the cases against the men.
No physical evidence had connected the two men to the crime. The post-conviction breakthrough came last year when DNA testing of evidence found under the fingernails of Mr. Yarbough’s mother matched DNA from a subsequent rape and murder that occurred in 1999 when Yarbough and Wilson were in prison. Family members cheered as the decision was announced in court.
These are the first murder convictions obtained by longtime former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes to be overturned in the new district attorney’s administration, but they will likely not be the last to be comprehensively reviewed. Hyne’s successor, Kenneth P. Thompson, campaigned on the promise of addressing the issue of many claims of wrongful convictions.
As The New York Times reported (here):
Yarbough and Wilson “were just two prisoners of many who had pinned their hopes on Kenneth P. Thompson, the new Brooklyn district attorney. Little more than a month after taking office, Mr. Thompson is grappling with a metastasizing wrongful conviction scandal in which dozens of imprisoned men have asked for freedom, their convictions linked to mistakes and misconduct by police and prosecutors in the violent, drug-plagued 1980s and 1990s. It is a tidal wave that could dwarf other exoneration clusters.”
The challenge of addressing these claims is complex. The New York Times reported that Barry Scheck, co-founder and co-director of the Innocence Project, has recommended “instituting an information-sharing agreement between defense lawyers and conviction integrity unit investigators that calls for cooperation beyond the usual obligation to disclose evidence.”
This high-profile review of numerous cases will be instructive to other jurisdictions in which prosecutorial and/or law enforcement cultures may have contributed to multiple miscarriages of justice.