DA Bragg successfully moves to vacate 'unjust' murder convictions of two men based on 'new evidence'
Democratic Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg filed motions this week to vacate the prior convictions of two men who'd been "wrongfully" imprisoned for murder, ABC News reported.
Those two men are Wayne Gardine, 49, a Jamaican migrant who was paroled last year after serving "nearly three decades" in prison following a 1996 conviction for the murder of Robert Mickens and now faces deportation while in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Jabar Walker, who was sentenced to two 25-to-life terms following a 1998 conviction for the double murder of William Santana and Ismael De La Cruz.
In the case of Gardine, prosecutors pointed to "new evidence" from a second witness that "undermined" the testimony of a sole eyewitness relied upon at trial, while for Walker, prosecutors similarly argued that "newly discovered evidence," recanted prior testimony, and ineffective defense counsel all warranted vacatur of his murder conviction.
New testimony from second witness undermines prior testimony of supposed sole witness
A Monday press release from DA Bragg's office revealed that prosecutors within the Post-Conviction Justice Unit of the Manhattan office had joined forces with a pair of non-profit organizations -- the Innocence Project and the Legal Aid Society -- to both reinvestigate and then move to vacate the murder convictions of Gardine and Walker.
The motion to vacate Gardine's conviction noted that a new witness, identified only as "N.V.," had come forward after the 1996 conviction and provided "critical" testimony that conflicted with the prior trial testimony of "N.S.," who was previously thought to be the sole eyewitness to the murder but who had also "provided several different accounts" of what had allegedly been observed at the time of the murder.
In addition to vacating the murder conviction, the motion also called for the dismissal of the underlying indictment "in the interest of justice and because the People cannot now prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. Mr. Gardine has served his entire sentence, and any re-trial would not only be nearly impossible to prove but also unjust."
"Wayne Gardine was just 22 years old when he was sentenced to decades in prison following a trial that we now believe relied on an unreliable witness and testimony -- losing years of freedom due to an unjust conviction," Bragg said in a statement. "Unjust convictions are the height of injustice and while we can never completely undo the pain he has experienced, I hope this is the first step in allowing Mr. Gardine to rebuild his life and reunite with his loved ones. I thank the Legal Aid Society for its outstanding collaboration in this matter."
Lou Fox, a Legal Aid Society attorney who represented Gardine, said in a statement, "We are elated that Mr. Gardine will finally have his name cleared of this conviction that has haunted him for nearly three decades, yet he is still not a free man and faces additional and unwarranted punishment if deported," and added, "We thank New York County District Attorney Alvin Bragg for joining us on this motion, and we call on ICE to immediately release our client so he can return to his family and community, and to drop deportation proceedings."
New evidence suggests ineffective defense counsel for Walker
As for Walker, who also goes by the names Jabar Moore and Jamal Moore, prosecutors teamed up with the Innocence Project to review the double-murder trial and conviction and reached the conclusion that Walker had been unjustly convicted for a crime he now appears to have not committed.
That determination was reached due to the fact that two supposed witnesses in the case have now fully recanted or admitted uncertainty about their prior testimony, which led to an assertion that Walker had received "ineffective counsel" from his defense attorney before, during, and after trial.
Prosecutors thus joined and affirmed a motion from the Innocence Project that called for Walker's conviction to be vacated, the underlying indictment to be dismissed, and for him to be immediately released from prison.
"Not only was the case against Jabar Walker built upon unreliable and recanted testimony, he did not have the benefit of an effective defense attorney -- one of the constitutional bedrocks of our justice system," Bragg said in a statement. "Despite these serious issues, Mr. Walker received a sentence that could have kept him in prison for his entire life. I am thrilled that he can now finally return home and thank the Innocence Project for its steadfast advocacy throughout this matter."
Gardine awaiting deportation in ICE custody; Walker set free after 25 years
ABC News reported that Gardine had already been released from prison on parole last year after serving out a sentence of more than 18 years but was then transferred to ICE custody while awaiting deportation in light of that prior conviction and his status as an immigrant from Jamaica, from which he moved to the U.S. with his family as a child.
The outlet further noted that Walker "entered a courtroom Monday in handcuffs and exited a free man after serving 25 years in prison" following a hearing in which the judge signed off on the motion to vacate his double-murder conviction.