Two men who were imprisoned for several decades for separate killings investigated by detectives in the same NYPD precinct in Harlem had their convictions overturned by Manhattan judges on Monday.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has decided to dismiss the charges against Wayne Gardine, who was convicted of a fatal shooting in Harlem back in 1994, and Jabar Walker, who was convicted of a double homicide in 1998. These cases were re-examined by the District Attorney’s Office in collaboration with defense attorneys from the Legal Aid Society and the Innocence Project. After a thorough reinvestigation, the prosecutors have expressed their doubts about the men’s guilt. Wayne Gardine and Jabar Walker have spent a total of 54 years behind bars for crimes that the prosecutors are no longer convinced they committed.
According to Vanessa Potkin, Walker’s attorney and director of special litigation for the Innocence Project, there is a significant issue within the police, prosecutors, and the overall justice system. She argues that the truth often takes a backseat, and once someone is convicted, the focus shifts to upholding that conviction.
The convictions of Gardine and Walker were overturned because prosecutors did not find the witness accounts credible.
According to Gardine’s lawyers, one witness admitted to fabricating a story due to feeling pressured by his boss, who happened to be friends with the victim. Similarly, in Walker’s case, a witness who initially claimed to have heard Walker confess to the murders later recanted, revealing that he had been coerced by police officers.
In the 1990s, corruption at the 30th Precinct station house in Harlem, also known as the “Dirty 30,” had severe consequences.
According to the Legal Aid Society, Gardine’s case was handled by a detective at the precinct who was later found guilty of drug trafficking conspiracy and spent eight years in prison.
During the 1990s, a mayoral commission was appointed to investigate police corruption. The commission discovered that officers in the precinct were engaged in regular illegal searches, as well as theft of money and drugs. As a result, numerous police officers were arrested as part of the investigation.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg established a Post-Conviction Justice Unit with the aim of examining potential wrongful convictions following his assumption of office in the previous year. This initiative has led to the overturning of over 500 cases, primarily related to police officers facing accusations of misconduct. In addition to these mass dismissals, the district attorney’s office has successfully overturned five other individual convictions, while 18 more cases are currently under review.
Several district attorneys in the city have also established units to review past cases. When convictions are overturned, it often leads to significant financial settlements. The legal teams representing Gardine and Walker have not yet indicated whether they will pursue lawsuits regarding their wrongful convictions.
Gardine, who is 49 years old, participated in the hearing to prove his innocence through a video conference. Currently, he is being held in immigration detention as he fights against being deported to his home country of Jamaica. This immigration process was initiated after he had already spent approximately 28 years in prison.
In an interview last week, Lou Fox, a staff attorney in the Legal Aid Society’s Wrongful Conviction Unit, expressed that they are not obligated to release him. This aspect of the situation is truly distressing and bittersweet for him.
Walker had been sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
With a smile directed towards his family in the gallery, Walker acknowledged their applause as Judge Miriam Best granted the request to vacate his conviction.
Walker expressed his gratitude to the prosecutors by saying, “God bless.”
With joy and excitement, his family erupted into cheers as he embraced them tightly and struck a pose for photographs just outside the courthouse.
“I’m still trying to process it,” Walker expressed, reflecting on the overwhelming emotions. “It truly feels incredible to finally be free.”