Disgraced detective’s influence puts 1995 murder case into question
A Brooklyn man looking to get his 1996 murder conviction overturned is hoping the fingerprints of disgraced former Det. Louis Scarcella on his case will help him get out of prison.
Scarcella testified in Brooklyn Supreme Court Tuesday and Wednesday in the case of Eliseo DeLeon, who was convicted of the 1995 Clinton Hill murder of Fausto Cordero.
DeLeon was allegedly trying to rob Cordero and shot him in the stomach. During a confession at the 79th Precinct after the killing, for which Scarcella, his partner Det. Stephen Chmil and one other detective were present, DeLeon allegedly told cops that the victim tried to grab the gun and it went off. DeLeon denies that he ever confessed and later refused to give a videotaped confession.
While Supreme Court Justice Dena Douglas denied DeLeon’s motion to have a hearing regarding his “actual innocence,” she approved a hearing based on newly discovered evidence.
“Two of the detectives; Scarcella and Chmil are currently accused of falsifying evidence in hundreds of cases, and are now disgraced,” DeLeon filed in a handwritten motion to have the conviction thrown out.
“He was convicted on the basis of an alleged oral confession,” said Cary London, DeLeon’s lawyer. “He didn’t make this confession. It was made up. He did not write it. He did not sign anything written. It was an oral confession allegedly given to Det. Scarcella and Det. Chmil.”
Scarcella had a testy exchange with London Wednesday over his involvement in the DeLeon case. He said he “didn’t remember” being in the room at the 79th Precinct when DeLeon was being questioned, according to New York Post.
DeLeon also claims that prosecutors at his trial failed to disclose fingerprints lifted from a nearby telephone booth, which witnesses said the shooter used.
Scarcella worked for the NYPD in the ’80s and ’90s, and is responsible for eight murder convictions that 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.
London spent hours Tuesday afternoon grilling Scarcella on his work in other murder cases where convictions were eventually vacated. Scarcella denied any wrongdoing in any case.
London painted Scarcella as a rogue cop who would do anything to secure a conviction, even if it meant breaking the rules.
“You don’t always abide by police rules?” London asked Scarcella — who used to carry two guns at a time — at one point.
“That’s a very, very gray area,” Scarcella responded.
Scarcella admitted he routinely gave witnesses money along with his business card to incentivize them to give information to him on crimes. He also admitted to allowing incarcerated witnesses to leave jail with him on what were called “take-out orders.” During take-out orders, cops were allowed to take witnesses to crime scenes or the DA’s office. But Scarcella told London he allowed an incarcerated man to have sex with a woman in a separate room during one take-out order.
Scarcella testified in another hearing to overturn a murder conviction less than three months ago, saying he did not remember the specifics of the case, but that he stood by all his investigations.
Before Tuesday’s hearing, DeLeon’s sister Eva Gonzalez wept as she spoke with reporters.
“I just haven’t seen him for so long. I want him home,” she said.
DeLeon was identified by three different eyewitnesses, including the victim’s wife, who said she would never forget the face of the person who killed her husband. The eyewitnesses continue to stand by the identification. None of the witnesses have recanted.
At DeLeon’s 1996 sentencing, he admitted his guilt again, according to court records. “Well I ain’t really got much to say but I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to go there like I went there, your honor. If anything I could change about the family, I want them to forgive me or to — you know — they can hate me, but all I can say is sorry.”
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