East New York

Brooklyn murder convict loses court battle to have case tossed

August 29, 2019 Noah Goldberg
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A Brooklyn man accused of a decades-old murder lost a court battle to get his conviction overturned on Thursday — despite the fact that disgraced former detective Louis Scarcella and his partner Stephen Chmil worked the case.

Nelson Cruz was convicted as a teenager of shooting a man named Trevor Vieira in East New York back in 1998. His lawyers argued over the last five months that Cruz was not the shooter, but that he was framed by crooked NYPD detectives and that his confession was coerced by the pair of homicide detectives.

“I don’t know how much more you need Scarcella and Chmil to be involved in this case,” Cruz’s lawyer, Justin Bonus, said to Supreme Court Justice ShawnDya Simpson after she made her decision.

Simpson said that despite the detectives’ involvement in the case, Cruz’s lawyers failed to successfully undermine testimony from the original trial pointing to Cruz’s guilt.

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“The defense has not proven that the defendant is innocent by a preponderance of the evidence,” Simpson said. “They also have not established that the defendant’s [original counsel] was not effective.”

Ericka Cruz (left) and Derrick Hamilton (right) speak outside the courtroom after Nelson Cruz’s motion to vacate his conviction was rejected by a judge. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

In March 1998, two police officers were driving down Pitkin Avenue in East New York when they saw a man with a ponytail shooting a gun, “the gun muzzle flashing,” according to the defense team’s 2016 motion.

Police apprehended Eduardo Rodriguez, the long-haired man that defense lawyers say was the real killer, at the crime scene — but he was not charged with murder. Rodriguez told cops that Cruz was the person responsible for the killing.

Cruz’s defense team presented 14 witnesses in the hearing.

Cruz’s family, sitting in the courtroom, burst into tears and hung their heads when they heard the judge’s decision.

“We believe we’ll win this case, whether it’s on rearmament or appeal,” said paralegal Derrick Hamilton, who had his own murder conviction tossed in 2015 due to Scarcella’s involvement in his case.


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