East New York

Partner of disgraced NYPD Det. Scarcella testifies in wrongful conviction hearing

April 4, 2019 Noah Goldberg
Retired Det. Stephen Chmil testifies at the wrongful murder conviction hearing of Nelson Cruz. Eagle photo by Noah Goldberg.

The longtime partner of disgraced Brooklyn Detective Louis Scarcella testified Thursday in the hearing of Nelson Cruz, who claims he is incarcerated for a murder he did not commit.

Former Det. Stephen Chmil, who roved Brooklyn North in the ’80s and ’90s investigating homicides with his partner Scarcella, spoke in Brooklyn Supreme Court about his role investigating the March 1998 murder of Trevor Vieira, who was gunned down late at night in East New York.

Chmil was the lead detective on the case, which landed Nelson Cruz behind bars for murder at age 17.

Cruz has accused Chmil and Scarcella of coercing a confession in his case, as well as using a false witness.

During his testimony, Chmil at first said he did not remember the Trevor Vieira muder.

“Do you remember Trevor Vieira homicide?” asked Nelson Cruz’s lawyer, Justin Bonus.

“No sir,” Chmil said, then revised his answer. “I didn’t realize that was the victim’s name, no. Mr. Cruz’s case? Yes, I remember.”

Chmil also testified that he and Scarcella, who worked as partners for 11 years, were still in contact.

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“I talked to him last night. Just that I was gonna testify today,” Chmil said.

When asked how many cases he and Scarcella worked together, Chmil said, “Probably 100. Maybe more.”

Scarcella testified Friday that he largely did not remember his role in investigating the case.

Though Scarcella’s notoriety far eclipses that of his partner, Chmil’s record has come under serious scrutiny as well.

Eight murder convictions that Scarcella worked on were ultimately overturned by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit, which former DA Kenneth Thompson established in 2014 to investigate potentially wrongful convictions.

Chmil worked on many of those cases.

“We consider him to be a red flag,” said Glenn Garber, the director of the Exoneration Initiative, which provides free legal service to people who claim they have been wrongfully convicted.

“When we see that Chmil is involved in a case, it causes us to look at it more closely and scrutinize the conduct.”

Garber also said that Chmil and Scarcella present differently in court.

“They’re different people in how they respond to questions on the witness stand,” Garber said.

While Scarcella raised his voice at Cruz’s attorney when it was suggested that he engaged in misconduct, Chmil remained calm and often waited for his lawyer — who also represented Scarcella — to object to Bonus’s questions, so Chmil did not have to answer.

And just like Scarcella, when asked if he stood by all his investigations, Chmil was confident. “Absolutely,” he said.

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