Derrick Hamilton was locked in solitary confinement two decades ago for a murder he insisted he did not commit. He became a jailhouse lawyer, helping fellow inmates appeal their convictions. He finally persuaded prosecutors to throw out his own conviction, after an eyewitness recanted her testimony. Once free, he became an activist, toiling to get others he believed were wrongfully convicted out of jail. Officials in New York and New Haven, Ct., agreed on Friday to pay Hamilton, 54, $7 million to settle a lawsuit he had filed against three police officers, accusing them of fabricating evidence against him, reports the New York Times.
One of those officers, Louis Scarcella, a retired New York detective, has emerged as symbol of wrongful convictions, as numerous cases he handled have fallen apart. Under the terms of the agreement, Scarcella admitted no wrongdoing. For Hamilton, the payout, while substantial, was not the point. “It’ll help my family out financially,” he said. “It doesn’t settle what I went through.” In 1991, when he was 28 and living in New Haven, Hamilton was arrested by Scarcella and the local police, accused of killing a Brooklyn man he had known, Nathaniel Cash. The only witness against him was Cash’s girlfriend, Jewel Smith, who had given conflicting accounts about Hamilton’s role in the killing. Hamilton was convicted and sent to prison in 1992. In 2007, Smith went to the authorities and said Hamilton was innocent. Scarcella, she said, had coerced her into testifying. Eight years later, the Brooklyn district attorney’s office asked a judge to toss Hamilton’s conviction. He has partnered with the Innocence Project in an effort to persuade the New York Police Department to change the way officers conduct interrogations.