In two separate cases, men who were convicted and imprisoned for murders they did not commit had a very good week as officials recognized their innocence on Friday, January 9. Both had been released after years in prison but had continued to fight to clear their names and reputations.
Derrick Hamilton spent 21 years in prison for the 1991 murder of Nathanial Cash in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York. In prison, he steadfastly proclaimed his innocence knowing that this worked against his opportunities for early parole. He remained in prison even after the sole witness — Cash’s girlfriend whose testimony had inconsistencies — recanted.
According to a New York Times article (here) Hamilton became a self-taught “jailhouse lawyer” and advocate in prison. He and a group of inmates met regularly in the prison law library and worked on cases. Hamilton is credited with being one of the first to notice a common link to many convictions: the questionable tactics of Detective Louis Scarcella. He noted that Scarcella “often used the same eyewitness and produced confessions that defendants said were coerced or false.”
Hamilton was paroled in 2011. He then won an appellate decision to reopen the case, which became one of 100 convictions under review by Kings County District Attorney Kenneth Thompson. About 70 of these, including Hamilton’s, are linked to Detective Scarcella, now retired.
After a review by his Conviction Integrity Unit, District Attorney Thompson told Hamilton on Monday that “he would join Hamilton’s motion to toss his conviction and original indictment,” according to CBS news. In a written public statement on Friday Thompson said, “The Conviction Integrity Unit carefully analyzed the scene of the crime and based on scientific and medical evidence concluded that the sole witness was unreliable.”
Hamilton’s motion, supported by both Thompson and Hamilton’s attorney, was granted when a State Supreme Court judge dismissed his murder indictment. According to the National Registry of Exoneration’s report on this case (here), Hamilton’s was the sixth homicide case involving Detective Scarcella to be vacated and dismissed.
Detective Scarcella and his attorneys have denied any wrongdoing.
Thompson’s Conviction Integrity Unit is ambitiously re-examining worthy claims of innocence, particularly those related to Scarcella. According to Time Warner News, Thompson said, “Were looking at every case involving Detective Scarcella where he played a significant role, if he says he took a confession, if he went into the grand jury, if he played a key role that we felt deserved to have us review the case and so out of all the cases that we’re looking at, 71 of them involve Detective Scarcella.”
Hamilton, who has been working to free others he believes were wrongfully convicted, praised the work and integrity of District Attorney Thompson.
Also on Friday, retiring Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, granted clemency to 231 persons and an innocence-based pardon to Alan Beaman, of Rockport. Beaman had been a college student when he was wrongly accused and then convicted of the murder of his former girlfriend. He spent 13 years in prison before finding relief.
According to the case report at the National Registry of Exonerations (here), the Illinois Supreme Court reversed Beaman’s conviction in 2008 because prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence that the court believed would have likely changed the outcome of the trial. Prosecutors dropped all charges against Beaman in 2009. DNA testing in 2012 pointed to two unknown male suspects. A judge granted Beaman a certificate of innocence in 2013. He received $175,000 from the Illinois Court of Claims.
Beaman is now married with two children. The Center on Wrongful Convictions (CWC) at Northwestern Law worked on the Beaman case for years.
As reported by ABC News (here), CWC Director Karen Daniel explained the importance of Governor Quinn’s pardon to Beaman and his family. “It’s a statement by the highest elected official of Illinois that he’s actually innocent,” she said. “After all that he’s been through, it is really an important symbolic statement and something that he can carry with him through his life.”
Congratulations to Derrick Hamilton and Alan Beaman, and to the loved ones, supporters, and advocates who stood with them through long, arduous efforts to do justice.