After 29 years, Harlem man wrongfully convicted of murder in 1996 and exonerated now confronts ICE deportation

The Legal Aid Society is urging for the release of Wayne Gardine from ICE custody and the termination of pending deportation proceedings, following a hearing on a motion to vacate his 1996 murder conviction.

After a thorough reexamination of a Harlem shooting case, Gardine, who had been wrongfully convicted of murder and spent 29 years behind bars, has finally been exonerated. This news has sparked an appeal for justice, urging authorities to take immediate action to rectify the injustice that Gardine had endured for nearly three decades.

Gardine, a client of the Legal Aid Society, had his wrongful conviction overturned in 1996 for a murder related to a Harlem shooting that occurred two years prior. The Legal Aid Society revealed that Gardine had to endure pretrial detention, serve a prison sentence, and even faced subsequent ICE detention.

Despite asserting his innocence, Gardine, aged 49, had his parole denied on four separate occasions.

“District Attorney Alvin Bragg expressed his strong belief in rectifying the grave injustice of wrongful convictions. He acknowledged that the pain endured by Mr. Gardine cannot be fully erased, but emphasized that this decision marks an essential initial step towards his healing, as well as the opportunity to rebuild his life and be reunited with his cherished family.”

After being released from Fishkill Correctional Facility, he was transferred to the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and is currently at risk of being deported to Jamaica.

The Legal Aid Society has urged ICE to release Gardine from custody and halt deportation proceedings against him. This request comes after a hearing on a motion to vacate Gardine’s 1996 murder conviction on Monday morning.

“I can’t help but cry every time I think of Wayne,” expressed Grace Davis, the mother of Wayne Gardine. “He was unjustly robbed of almost thirty years of his life for a crime he never committed. It is in the hands of ICE to put an end to this torment and release my son without any further delay.”

Legal Aid’s Wrongful Conviction Unit began investigating Gardine’s case in 2022, with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Post Conviction Justice Unit joining in shortly after.

According to the statement from the Legal Aid Society, the investigation into Gardine’s case revealed a number of issues. One of the main concerns was that the case was based on a fabricated story concocted by two teenagers. Furthermore, the statement highlighted that the detectives involved in the case prioritized making an arrest over ensuring the credibility of the allegations.

During the trial, there was only one teenager who testified, and his account of the events kept fluctuating. It is worth noting that this particular teenager was already on felony probation and had also been involved in another criminal activity. However, the defense team was unaware of these details at the time.

The second teenager, who had not testified previously, has now come forward and stated that both of them were too far from the shooting to witness or hear anything. It is important to note that there was no concrete evidence or confession that implicated Gardine in the crime. The jury’s only source of information came from this single witness. Adding to the complexity of the case, the lead detective, who has since retired, has expressed doubts about his own investigation and the reliability of the evidence gathered.

According to the Legal Aid Society, in 1994, he was a novice homicide detective who relied on the guidance of his supervisor, Detective Willie Parson. Parson directed him to focus on specific leads and discouraged him from investigating other avenues.

In the early 1990s, a major police corruption scandal rocked the 30th Precinct, where Parson was stationed. During the investigation, Parson faced allegations of engaging in drug theft and trafficking.

Parson managed to avoid scrutiny during that investigation, but his luck ran out in 2000 when he was apprehended for drug trafficking while still serving as an NYPD detective. He admitted guilt to participating in a drug distribution conspiracy and subsequently served an eight-year sentence in a federal penitentiary.

“We are thrilled that Mr. Gardine will finally have his name cleared of this conviction that has haunted him for almost thirty years. However, he is still not a free man and may face further undeserved consequences if he is deported,” expressed Lou Fox, Mr. Gardine’s attorney from The Legal Aid Society’s Wrongful Conviction Unit.

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