New York prosecutor was trailblazer on reviewing convictions

JENNIFER PELTZ, Associated Press NEW YORK (AP) 10/10— In his short time as Brooklyn’s top prosecutor, Kenneth Thompson became known perhaps as much for the convictions he disavowed as the ones he got.

Thompson, who died of cancer Sunday during his first term as Brooklyn’s district attorney, agreed to overturn 21 convictions and re-examine more than 100 in one of the most ambitious efforts of its kind. It made him a leading voice in a national conversation about what part prosecutors can play in addressing claims of wrongful conviction.

“Ken became the role model for prosecutors all over the United States in understanding the difference between a prosecutor defending convictions and a prosecutor seeking justice,” said Peter Neufeld, a co-founder of the Innocence Project, a national legal group that works to exonerate wrongfully convicted people. “And he raised the bar pretty high.”

The 50-year-old prosecutor’s death came just four days after he announced his diagnosis. For now, chief Assistant District Attorney Eric Gonzalez is leading the office, though Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo may appoint someone to serve out Thompson’s term. Cuomo’s office said Monday it was reviewing options.

Thompson became Brooklyn’s first African-American district attorney in 2014. A former federal prosecutor, he’d become known in private practice for representing a hotel maid who accused former International Monetary Fund leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn in 2011 of sexual assault; Strauss-Kahn denied it, criminal charges were dismissed and a civil case was settled.

Like several other prosecutors around the country, longtime Brooklyn DA Charles “Joe” Hynes had created a special unit to review challenged convictions. But after questions about a former police detective’s tactics put dozens of decades-old homicide convictions under scrutiny, Thompson successfully campaigned on pledges to do more.

Within months of taking office, he upped the number of conviction review prosecutors from three to 10 in a $1 million-a-year effort that also boasted three investigators and other staffers. He hired a Harvard Law School professor to guide the work and appointed a panel of experienced lawyers to give their outside, volunteer input. The unit’s docket soon grew to more than 90 cases.

“It is our fundamental duty as prosecutors to do justice,” Thompson said last year. “And that means to do what is right.”

Exoneration experts said few, if any, prosecutors had tackled such a sweeping examination all at once, and fellow DAs looked to it as an example.

“Ken really, I think, led the nation in the commitment and the size of his office’s efforts in investigating claims of wrongful conviction” and in combining internal and external reviewers, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said.

Thompson’s initiative has spurred Vance to consider changes to his own conviction review unit, begun six years ago, he said. In Chicago, Democratic state’s attorney candidate Kim Foxx has pointed to Thompson’s conviction review work on the campaign trail.

While Thompson’s office won convictions in some high-profile cases — including a police officer’s deadly shooting of an unarmed black man in a dark stairwell — his review unit freed some people who had been behind bars for decades.

Thompson often went to court to watch the cases be dismissed and give the former defendants handshakes or hugs.

He also stood by about 40 other convictions after reviewing them, and his office is fighting some wrongful-conviction claims in court.

Still, one such defendant’s lawyer, Glenn Garber, the founder of the Exoneration Initiative legal group, calls Thompson “a trailblazer” who “really cared about improving the criminal justice system.”

So does the attorney who represents ex-Detective Louis Scarcella, who’s seen nearly 60 of his cases come under review. People challenging their convictions said Scarcella fabricated confessions, manipulated witnesses and intimidated suspects; he denies any wrongdoing.

Six convictions have been reversed, but prosecutors have said they found no evidence Scarcella engaged in misconduct.

“Ken Thompson,” Scarcella lawyer Alan Abramson said, “should always be remembered as a prosecutor who sought justice.”

https://www.apnews.com/1804aecb8b514a4cac814ad07accbbf6/New-York-prosecutor-was-trailblazer-on-reviewing-convictions

Posted in: Courts & Trials, Wrongful Convictions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

11 + 1 =

Terms of Use for Posting Comments

Terms of Use

This site (the “Site”) is operated and maintained by Law Enforcement Education Foundation, Corporation (“Company”). Throughout the Site, the terms “we”, “us” and “our” refer to Company.  The words “user,” “you” and “your” as used herein refer to you.

Please read these terms and conditions of use (“Terms of Use”) carefully before contributing content. If you do not agree to these Terms of Use, please do not contribute content. Your use of the Site is subject to the Terms and Conditions found here .

By contributing content to the Site, you represent and warrant that you are at least eighteen (18) years old and that you have read and understand these Terms of Use and any amendments thereto and agree to be bound by them. If you are not at least eighteen (18) years old or you do not agree and accept these Terms of Use, you are prohibited from contributing content.

From time to time, we may permit users to submit content to the Site.  You hereby acknowledge and agree that by submitting remarks, comments, suggestions, ideas, graphics, feedback, edits, concepts, comments, photographs, illustrations and other materials (other than personal information and/or registration information) through the Site (individually and collectively, “Submissions”), you (i) grant us a nonexclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, transferable, irrevocable and fully sub-licensable right to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, translate, distribute, publish, create derivative works from and publicly display and perform such Submissions throughout the world in any media, now known or hereafter created, without attribution to you; (ii) grant us the right to pursue at law any person or entity that violates your and/or our rights in your Submissions; and (iii) forever waive any and all of your rights, including but not limited to moral rights, if any, in and to your Submissions, including, without limitation, any all rights or requirements of attribution or identification of you as the author of the Submission or any derivative thereof.  We reserve the right to remove any of your Submissions from the Site, in whole or in part, without notice to you, for any reason or no reason.

Submissions are made voluntarily. Any submissions which include personally identifiable information are subject to our Privacy Policy found here .  You may not upload or otherwise publish content on the Site that (i) is confidential to you or any third party; (ii) is untrue, inaccurate, false or other than an original work of your authorship; (iii) that relates to or impersonates any other person; (iv) violates the copyright, trademark, patent or other intellectual property rights of any person or entity; (v) contains any content, personally identifiable information or other information, or materials of any kind that relate or refer to any other person or entity other than the provider of the products, goods or services to which the Submission relates; or (vi) violates any law, or in any manner infringes or interferes with the rights of others, including but not limited to the use of names, information, or materials that (A) libel, defame, or invade the privacy of any third party, (B) are obscene or pornographic, (C) are harmful, threatening, offensive, abusive, harassing, vulgar, false or inaccurate, racially, sexually, ethnically or are otherwise objectionable or otherwise contrary to the laws of any place where such Submissions may be accessed; (D) constitute personal attacks on other individuals; (E) promote criminal, immoral or illegal activity; (F) promote or advertise any person, product or service or solicit funds; or (G) are deemed confidential by any contract or policy.

You are solely responsible for any Submissions you make and their accuracy. We take no responsibility and assume no liability for any Submissions posted by you or any third party.

Unless approved by us in writing in advance, you agree not to: (i) provide or create a link to the Site; or (ii) create any frames at any other sites pertaining to any of the content located on the Site.

We reserve the right, in our discretion, to update, change or replace any part of these Terms of Use for Posting Comments by posting updates and/or changes to our Site.  It is your responsibility to check this page periodically for changes.  Your continued use of, and/or access to the Site, following the posting of any changes to these Terms of Use for Posting Comments, constitutes your acceptance of those changes.