Kings County (Brooklyn, NY) District Attorney Joe Hynes may have lost reelection last November to relative unknown Ken Thompson, but the fallout from the Hynes era continues. In an article entitled “At New Brooklyn District Attorney’s Door, a Tidal Wave of Wrongful Conviction Cases,” the New York Times examines the challenges that Thompson faces in trying to address the mess that Hynes left behind.
As we examined back in October, in recent years, there were a number of high profile cases in which judges found that Hynes’ office had engaged in prosecutorial misconduct. At the same time, in part through the excellent local reporting of the New York Times, it came to light that one of Brooklyn’s lead homicide detectives from the 1980s and 1990s, Louis Scarcella, appears to have engaged in a pattern of railroading suspects. According to the Times Scarcella repeatedly coerced false confessions and built cases around a small number of demonstrably unreliable witnesses (including a crack-addicted sex worker) – all as a way making sure that whomever he identified as a suspect would end up convicted, whether the suspect was actually guilty or not. Scarcella’s former partner has also come under scrutiny for similar behavior.
Today the Times explains the challenges Thompson faces:
[T]he dozens or hundreds of potential wrongful convictions also present a political quagmire for Mr. Thompson. His predecessor, Charles J. Hynes, was credited for creating a conviction integrity unit after several convictions were questioned in recent years, but sharply criticized for moving too slowly, defending prosecutors accused of misconduct and clinging to convictions even after they were discredited.
Now, in Mr. Thompson’s fifth week in office, defense attorneys are eager for the reforms Mr. Thompson promised while campaigning to unseat Mr. Hynes. Though the lawyers say they understand Mr. Thompson has inherited a formidable task and needs time to establish his office, several privately grumble that members of his staff have not returned calls while their clients languish in prison….
In another complication, prosecutors who still work in the district attorney’s office could be accused of misconduct as more cases are reviewed, raising the possibility that Mr. Thompson will need to refer cases to an independent reviewer. He endorsed the idea in a Huffington Post column in April, calling for Mr. Hynes to turn over [some cases] to a state authority. (Mr. Hynes commissioned an independent panel to review the Scarcella cases, but drew criticism for stacking it with friends and donors.)
Thompson has promised that he will take these matters seriously and affirmatively root out the longstanding problems in the Brooklyn DA’s office. We at the Open File will keep our eye on Thompson and amplify the story as it develops.