SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association) An innocent Brooklyn man who spent 29 years locked up for murder lowered his head and sobbed Wednesday when his conviction was thrown out at long last.
“I want to go home, finally,” David McCallum, 45, said after taking his first steps as a free man. “It’s a bittersweet moment because I’m walking out alone. There’s someone else that is supposed to walk out with me but unfortunately he’s not.”
He was talking about his pal and co-defendant Willie Stuckey, who died in prison of a heart attack in 2001.
Both were cleared by prosecutors of a 1985 homicide they were convicted of at age 16.
When announcing that, Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson slammed his predecessor for leaving a mess of injustice behind.
“I inherited a legacy of disgrace with respect to wrongful convictions,” the DA said.
McCallum’s release, first reported by the Daily News, came after an advocacy drive, including an op-ed by famed boxer Rubin (Hurricane) Carter that was published in the paper weeks before he died in April.
“I couldn’t have done this without his intervention, his letter in the Daily News for example,” McCallum said.
Stuckey’s mother, Rosia Nealy, sat in her dead son’s stead and she comforted McCallum as he broke down after the judge announced his exoneration. The two then embraced as some in the jam-packed courtroom cheered and clapped.
Thompson said there “is not a single piece of evidence” that connected the two suspects to the crime — except for their brief confessions, which prosecutors have now concluded were false.
McCallum and Stuckey were both convicted for the kidnapping and murder of 20-year-old Nathan Blenner and were sentenced to 25 years to life.
McCallum’s lawyer, Oscar Michelen, said he had brought up the case with the conviction integrity unit of ex-DA Charles Hynes, who was defeated a year ago in large part because of the ballooning wrongful convictions scandal.
“Our pursuit of justice for David fell on deaf ears,” he said of the two years or so they’ve been communicating with prosecutors.
“They basically told us, ‘Call us when you find the real killer,’” the lawyer recalled.
Since taking office in January, Thompson has revamped and renamed the conviction review unit and, with Wednesday’s exonerations, have so far cleared 10 men who did time for murder (two of them posthumously).
Thompson said “disgrace” is an apt word to describe the situation he stepped into.
“I think that the people of Brooklyn deserve better and I think we shouldn’t have a national reputation of a place where people were railroaded and convicted of murders they did not commit,” he said.
A closer look into the McCallum case revealed that the conviction had hallmarks of false confession and that McCallum and Stuckey were fed information, said law professor Ronald Sullivan, who heads the review effort that already went through 30 cases — upholding most of them — and still has about 100 to go.
The admissions “were a product of improper suggestion, improper inducement and perhaps coercion,” prosecutor Mark Hale told the judge.
Investigators found that DNA obtained from the car Blenner was kidnapped in, which matched other men. They also discovered that a witness who claimed he supplied Stuckey the gun through his aunt was lying, with the aunt contradicting his account.
But Blenner’s relatives said they were left overwhelmed and “in shock” when Thompson informed them of his decision Tuesday.
“Nobody is going to say, ‘I want innocent people to go to jail,’ but I don’t feel they’re fully transparent in evaluating this case,” said the victim’s sister, Deborah Blenner, a physician from Queens.
“It’s like they retried the case, only there’s no opposition.”
The DA vowed to still go after the real killers.
McCallum’s mother, Ernestine McCallum, said she hopes the Blenners will one day find closure.
“I kept praying and I never lost faith,” she said of her son’s time in captivity.
She made him ham, fried chicken, string beans and cakes that McCallum said he was eager to sample.
“My life kind of starts from this point on,” he said before a large group of relatives and supporters walked with him out to the street.
“Every day counts. I learned that the hard way.”