Three New York men who spent over 20 years in prison for a murder they said they did not commit were on Friday cleared of their convictions.
According to The Associated Press, Vincent Ellerbe, James Irons, and Thomas Malik were convicted in the horrific 1995 killing of subway token clerk Harry Kaufman. And though the three men initially admitted to the murder, they later said investigators coerced them to falsely confess to the crime.
A judge on Friday moved to ultimately dismiss their convictions. Prosecutors said the evidence that was gathered during the investigation into the murder was inaccurate. They also highlighted questionable witness identifications and confessions.
Kaufman was stationed in an NYC subway toll booth when he was killed. His attackers set the tollbooth on fire after they attempted to rob him. Kaufman ended up catching fire after the booth exploded. He succumbed to his injuries after two weeks.
The nature of Kaufman’s killing made headlines as it was compared to an arson scene in the Money Train movie. The film was released four days before he was attacked. But the three men who were accused of the murder said investigators coerced them to falsely confess to the crime. Some of the detectives who looked into the case later faced multiple allegations of forcing confessions and framing suspects, The Associated Press reported.
Irons’ lawyer, David Shanies, said the Black man and his mother were at home when the incident occurred, adding that he even called 911 after he heard the explosion from the subway. Irons’ residence wasn’t far from the subway. But authorities did not play the 911 recording for jurors.
During investigations, detectives managed to get Irons to admit that he served as a lookout. He also identified Malik and Ellerbe as the individuals who set the tollbooth on fire. But Malik, who was 18 at the time, said former NYPD detective Louis Scarcella yelled at him and also hit his head against a locker. The disgraced former detective, however, told the court that though he cursed and hit a table in an attempt to scare Malik, he did not attack him.
Authorities have overturned several convictions linked to Scarcella.
“What happened to us can never be fixed,” Ellerbe told the court as he also recalled his prison experience. “They break you, or they turn you into a monster.”
Irons also said he felt “great.” Malik, on the other hand, said the judge’s decision to dismiss their conviction was “definitely too little, too late, but everything takes time.”
“I just was happy that I was able to stand strong to endure this journey,” Malik added. “But it was a rough journey.”