A month after sweeping into office amid promises to restore justice to the wrongfully convicted, Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson is confronting the possibility that the barrage of local killings in the drug-plagued 1980s and early 1990s led to a wave of wrongful convictions that could dwarf other exoneration scandals, the New York Times reports. “The term 'tip of the iceberg' is clichéd, but if ever it was applicable, it's applicable to this situation,” said Steven Banks, chief lawyer for the Legal Aid Society. “There's no question that this is going to be painstaking work to undo a problem that was years in the making.”
Today, Antonio Yarbough and co-defendant Sharrif Wilson, who have been in prison for murder since they were teenagers, will appear at a court hearing where their lawyers are confident their convictions will be vacated. The dozens or hundreds of potential wrongful convictions present a political quagmire for Thompson. His predecessor, Charles Hynes, was credited for creating a conviction integrity unit after several convictions were questioned in recent years, but sharply criticized for moving too slowly, defending prosecutors accused of misconduct and clinging to convictions after they were discredited. Thompson has said he planned to add more prosecutors, paralegals and investigators to the conviction integrity unit, which had just a few employees under Hynes. He has not appointed a leader for the unit.
Perhaps hundreds of murder convictions may need review because of coerced confessions, intimidated or untrustworthy witnesses, prosecutorial misconduct or discredited detectives like Louis J. Scarcella, whose hard-charging tactics as a Brooklyn homicide detective, reported by The New York Times last year, prompted Mr. Hynes to begin an official review of more than 50 of Mr. Scarcella's cases.
Pressure to solve cases during the violent years of the crack epidemic, along with a lack of oversight, bred a “round up the usual subjects, the ends justify the means” attitude that may have produced wrongful convictions, Mr. Banks said.