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Nathaniel Carter

Convicted of second-degree murder and assault, Nathaniel Carter was exonerated when the actual perpetrator, his former wife, Delisa Carter, confessed to the crime and admitted that she had fabricated her testimony in order to evade prosecution.
 
The crime occurred in the early afternoon of September 15, 1981, in Cambria Heights of Queens, New York. At around 2:45 p.m., Delisa Carter, a 23-year-old black woman, murdered her foster mother, Clarice Herndon, age 60, in a fit of pique during an argument over her 3-year-old daughter, Chamara, who died six months earlier in a fire at Delisa’s apartment. Furious that Mrs. Herndon would blame her for her daughter’s death, Delisa flew into a rage, and after retrieving her plastic-handled folding knife from her basement room, she began stabbing her foster mother repeatedly all over her body—the coroner found a total of 23 stab wounds to Clarice Herndon’s head and neck.
 
Instead of taking responsibility for the murder, Delisa Carter concocted a completely fallacious account of what happened. She told police during initial questioning that the killer was a black male, unknown to her, who entered the home through the back door and threatened her with a knife. She claimed that after the assailant cut her hands, she ran out of the house for help, leaving her foster mother, Mrs. Herndon, alone with the killer.
 
Three days later, the police brought Delisa in for further questioning. She repeated her story about an unknown intruder. Unconvinced, the questioning officer, Henry Harrison, threatened to arrest her for withholding evidence if the knife found in the house carried the fingerprints of anyone she knew. Relenting to the pressure, Delisa changed her story, and, after an hour-long interrogation, she identified the killer as her husband, Nathaniel Carter, a 31-year-old black man who had recently been fired from his job as a warehouse laborer. Because the district attorney in charge of the case felt Delisa had neither a reason to lie nor motive to kill, he did not ask her to sign an immunity waiver before testifying. Without a signed waiver, Delisa was immune from future prosecution for this crime. While Nathaniel was in prison awaiting trial, he and Delisa divorced, and he married Cathy Parker, with whom he had a previous relationship.
 
Using Delisa’s eyewitness testimony as the cornerstone of its case, the prosecution called her to the stand to recount the story she told police. Exhibiting the type of emotion expected of a grieving daughter, she impressed the jury with her demeanor and her description of the crime.
 
Although the defense presented two alibi witnesses who attested to the fact that Nathaniel Carter was nowhere near the crime scene when the murder occurred, they could do little to combat the damage inflicted by Delisa’s incriminating testimony. Both the prosecution and the defense team failed to interview and subpoena several other alibi witnesses who knew for a fact that Nathaniel Carter was in Westchester, New York, at the time of the murder. In addition, the defense never drew attention to Delisa Carter’s violent temperament—as a woman with a history of violence and hysterical outbursts, she was known throughout her community for her fierce temper and short fuse.
 
When Nathaniel took the stand to testify, he adamantly denied any involvement, claiming he had been in Westchester County for the entirety of September 15. But during cross-examination, the prosecutor, Jeffrey Granat, challenged Nathaniel’s alibi by pointing to a conversation he purportedly had with a friend, Patricia McBride, during which he allegedly admitted that he arrived at Mrs. Herndon’s home on the day of the crime to see that his wife’s hands were cut and bloody. After the trial, Patricia McBride, who did not testify, signed an affidavit stating that the conversation to which Granat alluded never took place. The jury found Nathaniel Carter guilty of second-degree murder and first-degree assault. On September 13, 1982, Judge John J. Leahy sentenced him to the maximum prison term—25 years to life.
 
After Nathaniel’s conviction, his mother-in-law, Marie Parker, called the Peekskill Police Department and talked to an old family friend, Lt. James Nelson, who promised to look into the case. Convinced of Nathaniel’s innocence, he recruited Peekskill Police Commissioner Walter D. Kirkland to the cause, and they began a reinvestigation into the crime. With the cooperation of the District Attorney, John J. Santucci, they conducted another interview with Delisa, who cracked under the pressure of increased scrutiny. Although she wouldn’t implicate herself, she did admit that Nathaniel—now her former husband—did not murder her foster mother. Still not satisfied, the police had Delisa’s former lover, Joseph Fife, secretly tape-record a conversation during which she finally confessed.
 
On January 25, 1984, Delisa appeared in court to formally recant her testimony and admit her guilt. She described for the trial judge, Justice Leahy, how she got into an argument with her foster mother, which escalated when Herndon blamed her for the death of her recently deceased child. Overcome with rage, Mrs. Carter testified that she began stabbing her foster mother, apparently too angered to realize what she was doing. As a result of her confession, the judge vacated Nathaniel’s conviction and dismissed the indictment with prejudice. Because Delisa had immunity from prosecution, they could not press charges against her for the murder.
 
After spending 28 months behind bars, Nathaniel Carter emerged from prison a free man. Seeking compensation for his wrongful conviction, he sued the New York Police Department for negligence. He ultimately received $450,000 in an out-of-court settlement with the city and $200,000 from the New York Court of Claims.
 
- Jason Robin
State:NY
County:Queens
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Reported Crime Date:1981
Convicted:1982
Exonerated:1984
Sentence:25 years to life
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:30
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense