By Mary Alice Miller
Brooklyn district attorney Charles Hynes began his tenure in elected office after he was named special prosecutor in the 1987 Howard Beach case. Now he faces the prospect of having his career end with yet another special prosecutor.
Ken Thompson, candidate for Brooklyn DA, has written a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo requesting a special prosecutor be named to review 50 cases of wrongful prosecution from within the DA’s office. “I request that you exercise your authority to grant the New York State Attorney General or another special prosecutor a referral to conduct an independent review of the dozens of questionable prosecutions that have recently come under scrutiny,” wrote Thompson. “It has become clear that considering this troubling pattern of official misconduct and wrongful convictions, District Attorney Hynes is not capable of conducting a truly independent review of his own cases.”
Earlier this month DA Hynes ordered a review of 50 murder cases assigned to Louis Scarcella, a retired detective.
Scarcella’s shoddy police work was questioned when in March a judge freed David Ranta who had served 23 years in prison for murdering a rabbi. Ranta was convicted after Scarcella allegedly produced witnesses against Ranta by removing violent criminals from prison, allowing them to smoke crack and visit prostitutes. Scarcella was known to pay cash for murder witnesses including one woman who happened to witness 6 different murders, including one man who allegedly committed 2 separate murders.
Scarcella was assigned to several dozen murder cases in the 1980s and 1990s which were prosecuted under DA Hynes and his predecessor Liz Holtzman. He retired in 1999.
Thompson’s letter to Cuomo cited the Ranta case and that of Jabbar Collins.
Collins spent 16 years in prison for the murder of a rabbi, a murder he did not commit. Three witnesses testified against him, but there was sufficient doubt about their testimonies that Collins initiated a $150 million federal lawsuit against the city for wrongful prosecution. From the bench, U.S. District Judge Frederic Block said “I’m disturbed by Hynes’behavior. This is horrific behavior on the part of [Michael] Vecchione,” who Hynes promoted to Chief of the Rackets Division even after it was revealed Vecchione allegedly withheld exculpatory evidence from defense council in several cases and has been accused of threatening witnesses with violence and longer prison sentences.
DA Hynes’ insists that his office is quite capable of reviewing wrongful convictions that his office obtained, even as victims of those wrongful prosecutions are skeptical.
“It is simply unacceptable for the fox to continue guarding the henhouse. There is precedent for the government to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate potential wrongdoing,” said Thompson, referring to the NYS Attorney General’s first-of-its-kind Conviction Review Bureau that is positioned to review cases involving allegations of misconduct by prosecutors and law enforcement.
The scope of wrongful prosecutions — not just in Brooklyn but around the city and across the country — have raised questions as to whether an independent body should be permanently established to review cases.
In other campaign news, despite DA Hynes’ 6 terms in office, last spring prospective voters admitted they didn’t know the name of Brooklyn’s district attorney during Thompson campaign intimate barber shop town halls. A couple of weeks later CBS announced a six-part reality television show featuring the successes and failures of Hynes and his top prosecutors. Candidate for Brooklyn DA Abe George, a Manhattan prosecutor, is suing CBS, DA Hynes, and Hynes’ campaign, calling the series an ‘infomercial.’ Citing the First Amendment, CBS plans to begin airing the series sometime in May.