The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 78/No. 17      May 5, 2014

Framed by cops and DA,
NY man freed 25 years later
(front page)
“I lost 25 years for something I didn’t do,” Jonathan Fleming wrote in a letter posted April 13 on the Huffington Post website.

Five days earlier Judge Matthew D’Emic ordered Fleming freed after a quarter-century-long fight to overturn his frame-up conviction for a 1989 murder in Brooklyn, N.Y. “Can you imagine how I felt when I heard that jury say I was guilty,” said Fleming, “when I knew I was in Florida at Disney World with my family when the murder was committed? I tried every day from prison to gain my freedom.”

Fleming is one of dozens in Brooklyn dating back to the 1980s and ’90s whose cases are being reopened in light of recent exposures of frame-ups by cops and prosecutors there.

These include 50 cases involving one detective, Louis Scarcella, accused of slapping around alleged “suspects,” coercing witnesses and letting informants out of jail to smoke crack cocaine. He used the same witness, Teresa Gomez, in five unrelated cases.

In 2011 former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes set up a one-person Conviction Integrity Unit to restore confidence in the criminal “justice” system. Similar units were then being set up around the country, amid growing evidence of widespread coerced confessions, withholding of evidence and other frame-up methods.

A number of Fleming’s family members who had traveled to Disney World with him testified at his trial and presented plane tickets, family videos and vacation photos proving he was there.

The case against Fleming was based on the testimony of one police witness, Jacqueline Belardo. She recanted her testimony before Fleming was sentenced, but the district attorney said she was lying and the judge ignored it.

Police logs produced after a new investigation began in June 2013 showed that cops found Belardo in a stolen van, charged her with grand larceny and subjected her to several hours of questioning. The charges against her were dropped one hour after she testified that she saw Fleming commit murder.

Fleming told his attorneys he had a phone receipt from his hotel in his pocket when he was arrested showing he was in Florida a couple hours before the Brooklyn murder. At his trial cops claimed they never recovered a receipt.

But when the Conviction Integrity Unit began its investigation the receipt was found in the police evidence locker.

“I can’t accept it was a mistake,” Taylor Koss, one of Fleming’s lawyers, told the Militant. “This was an unbelievable miscarriage of justice.”

“We’re working on two lawsuits against the state, the cops, the prosecutors and the city,” Koss said.

“I hadn’t been on a plane since I flew back from Disney World 25 years ago,” Fleming wrote, describing his flight to the April 8 hearing after being released from the Wende Correctional Facility in Alden, N.Y. “I walked through the airport and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. TVs and computers were everywhere. Everyone was talking on cellphones and typing on them. I had no idea what was going on.”

One day later, Sundhe Moses, Derrick Hamilton and Kevin Smith, who were framed-up by Scarcella and recently released from prison, were joined by other frame-up victims, family members and supporters at a rally at New York City Hall. They demanded the special investigation committee, recently renamed the Conviction Review Unit, speed up review of their cases.

“Prosecutorial and police misconduct is not only a serious problem in Brooklyn, it happens in every district attorney’s office in the city,” Hamilton said.

Among dozens fighting for release from prison is David McCallum, who, along with Willie Stuckey, was framed-up and convicted for a 1985 murder in Brooklyn. The two, both 16 at the time, “confessed,” after they were “coerced, tricked and physically assaulted” by the cops who arrested them, McCallum’s attorney Oscar Michelen noted in a statement. The two rejected a plea bargain and were found guilty and sentenced to 25 years to life.

Stuckey died in prison in 2001.

Former middleweight boxing contender Ruben “Hurricane” Carter — who himself spent 19 years in jail on frame-up murder charges — made the fight to exonerate McCallum his priority in the last months of his life. Carter died April 20.

“Not a single piece of evidence ever implicated them in this crime nor placed them anywhere near the scene,” Carter noted in a Feb. 21 New York Daily News column titled “Hurricane Carter’s Dying Wish.”  
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