Brownsville man released from prison 20 years after wrongful conviction

July 12, 2017 By Paul Frangipane Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Defense attorney Ron Kuby (left) with Jabbar Washington, who was released Wednesday after spending 20 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Eagle photos by Rob Abruzzese
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After a man spent 20 years in prison convicted of a Brownsville homicide, he walked out of court a free man Wednesday after the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office found his trial unfair, marking the 23rd conviction removed by the DA’s Office.

Jabbar Washington slowly raised a smiled as Judge Matthew D’Emic removed his 20-year-old conviction at Brooklyn Supreme Court and court officers released him from his handcuffs.

“I don’t have the words right now, I’m just happy,” Washington, 43, said to a swarm of reporters in the court halls, arms around his children that grew up without their father.

The victim of an unfair trial and an institution that pinned a case against him, Washington was arrested in 1997 for being part of a group of seven men that raided a Brownsville crack house guns blazing and stole $1,500 from the occupants, killing Ronald Ellis.

Washington was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison after a jury found him guilty.

“It was determined that Mr. Washington did not receive a fair trial and crucial information that would have been useful to the defense was withheld,” Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said in a statement. “It is critical that all defendants receive a fair trial and I am fully committed to reviewing and correcting miscarriages of justice in Brooklyn.”

The discrepancy came when key witness, Lisa Todd, identified Washington in a lineup conducted by retired Detectives Louis Scarcella and Stephen Chmil in February 1996.

Todd confessed to the prosecutor, Kyle Reeves, two days later that she identified Washington as a man she knew from her building, not one of the perpetrators.

However, Reeves withheld the information and Todd’s identification and confession were kept out of the trial that sent Washington to prison for nearly half his life.

When Todd testified before a jury, she did not identify Washington and neither the judge nor the defense attorney challenged, leading the jury to believe there was proper identification.

Nearly 40 cases Detective Scarcella investigated were under review in 2013, according to a report by the New York Times.

“The problem with institutional problems is they need institutional solutions,” Washington’s lawyer, Ronald Kuby said in court.

Kuby told reporters that Detective Scarcella literally beat a confession out of Washington that was false and multiple cases he investigated have gotten exonerated.

He added in court that at least two judges and six assistant district attorneys, including Reeves, did or should have known about the withheld information.

The exonerated conviction was investigated by the Conviction Review Unit of the Brooklyn DA’s Office, put in place by the late District Attorney Ken Thompson in 2014.

There are currently about 100 cases under review for conviction overturning and 58 have been found proper.

Washington left the courthouse wearing a hat with the hanging tag still attached that said, “Victims of Detective Scarcella.”

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