2 men exonerated for 1990s NYC murders after reinvestigations find unreliable witness testimony

Nov 27, 2023, 2:27 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — Two men who served decades in prison for separate murders in New York City were exonerated on Monday after reinvestigations found that they had been convicted based on unreliable witness testimony.

Jabar Walker, 49, walked free after he was cleared of a 1995 double murder. He had been serving 25 years to life for the crime.

Wayne Gardine, also 49 and convicted of a 1994 murder, was exonerated after being paroled last year. But he has also been accused of entering the United States illegally as a teenager and is now in immigration detention facing possible deportation to his native Jamaica.

Both crimes took place eight blocks apart in Harlem, and both convictions were vacated after defense lawyers worked with the Manhattan district attorney’s office’s conviction review unit to clear the men’s names.

Walker, who was represented by the Innocence Project, was 20 years old when he was arrested for the shooting deaths of Ismael De La Cruz and William Santana Guzman.

The new investigation of Walker’s case found that police had pressured a witness to incriminate Walker by implying that they would charge him with the shootings if he did not cooperate. The witness later recanted his testimony.

Another witness who said she had seen the shootings had received monetary benefits from the district attorney’s office, which was not disclosed to Walker’s defense, according to the Innocence Project.

“Mr. Walker received a sentence that could have kept him in prison for his entire life,” District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement. “I am thrilled that he can now finally return home and thank the Innocence Project for its steadfast advocacy throughout this matter.”

Walker entered a Manhattan courtroom in handcuffs on Monday and left a free man. The New York Times reported that Walker silently mouthed, “I made it,” when Justice Miriam R. Best vacated his conviction.

Gardine was 20 when he was arrested for the fatal shooting of Robert Mickens, who was shot nearly a dozen times.

His conviction was vacated after the reinvestigation from the district attorney’s office and the Legal Aid Society found that the single eyewitness who testified at trial had pinned the killing on Gardine to please his own drug boss, who was friends with the victim.

“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,” Bragg said.

Gardine was paroled last year after a total of 29 years behind bars but is now in immigration detention in upstate New York and facing possible deportation.

Gardine’s attorney with the Legal Aid Society, Lou Fox, said Gardine denies entering the country illegally and should be released.

“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,” Fox said in a statement.

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2 men exonerated for 1990s NYC murders after reinvestigations find unreliable witness testimony