Murder Conviction, Based Solely on Eyewitness Testimony, Reversed after 25 Years
A man imprisoned for 25 years on a murder conviction, based on a single eyewitness who had something to gain, walked out of a courtroom a free man yesterday afternoon.
Andre Hatchett, now 49, was convicted in the 1991 slaying of Neda Mae Carter in a park in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn.
But the Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson today consented to have the conviction reversed, since it was based on a sole eyewitness who didn’t immediately identify Hatchett – and who claimed to recognize the killer from a distance of about 40 feet on a rainy night.
“We are incredibly grateful to (the DA), without which Mr. Hatchett may never have received justice,” said Barry Scheck, of the Innocence Project. “This was a cooperative, non-adversarial search for the truth that should be a model for all who do this work.”
Hatchett walked out a free man on Thursday afternoon.
But at the time of the crime, on Feb. 18, 1991, Hatchett was recovering from several gunshot wounds to his throat and leg and was confined to crutches.
The eyewitness, named Gerard Williams, originally said the killer in the dark park had a crutch, then later changed that detail.
Williams even identified another man entirely, according to the investigators’ case file – a detail which was never released to Hatchett’s attorneys at the time of the trial.
Based on the strength of the sole eyewitness, and no physical evidence, Hatchett was convicted of second-degree murder – and was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Williams, who was with a woman at the time the alleged killer was standing over Carter’s body, testified at trial that he didn’t get anything in trade for his testimony in the murder case.
But the Innocence Project contends instead that he did receive favorable treatment, as mentioned in his attorney’s letters – and in the burglary charge against him being dropped shortly after the Hatchett trial. (Williams would eventually accumulate at least 20 criminal convictions).
“Sadly, the evidence we uncovered reveals that the system failed him at every step in the process,” said Jim Brochin, a lawyer from a New York firm who represented Hatchett for the Innocence Project. “Bad judgment and errors plagued this case from beginning to end.”
The collaborative spirit between the Innocence Project and the prosecutor’s office worked in the favor of justice, said Scheck.
“We had an information-sharing agreement that allowed us access to all police records and the district attorney’s file,” said Scheck. “There was a constant exchange of ideas and suggestion for investigation. Without this cooperation and open disclosure, we would have never discovered the many missteps that revealed Mr. Hatchett’s innocence.”
Hachett, who was serving 25 years to life in the killing of Neda Mae Carter, is the 19th wrongfully-convicted prisoner freed by the Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson's Conviction Review Unit, according to the AP.