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Jabbar Washington

Other Exonerations with Misconduct by Detective Scarcella
On January 21, 1995, several men invaded an apartment in a public housing development at 265 Livonia Avenue in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, looking for drugs and cash. Two of the invaders began shooting. Five of the occupants were wounded—most of them shot several times—and 40-year-old Ronald Ellis was killed.

A year later, in February 1996, seven men were charged with murder, attempted murder, and robbery. Among those charged was 22-year-old Jabbar Washington, whom the other defendants had named as being involved.

New York Police Detective Louis Scarcella, whose conduct in a vast array of cases would later be called into question, arrested Washington and reported that he had confessed to being involved in the crime. When Scarcella appeared before a grand jury, he testified that 26-year-old Lisa Todd, who had been in the apartment at the time of the crime and survived nine gunshot wounds, had identified Washington in a live lineup.

When Todd came to the grand jury later to testify, she told the prosecutor who was presenting witnesses that in fact she had told Scarcella that she only recognized Washington because he lived in the building where the crime occurred. The prosecutor made note of her comment.

In March 1997, Washington went to trial in Kings County Supreme Court. Scarcella testified that Washington confessed to taking part in the crime. He also testified that Todd had identified Washington as being among those who raided the apartment.

Todd testified and--like other victims who testified as well--said she could not identify any of the invaders because they all wore masks.

The prosecution failed to disclose to the defense that Todd told the grand jury prosecutor that she had not identified Washington as taking part in the crime. As a result, Washington’s lawyer did not have that evidence to confront Scarcella when he said Todd had identified Washington.

In fact, during cross-examination, Washington’s defense attorney asked Scarcella whether getting a confession was important in the case. Scarcella replied that if Washington “didn’t get ID’d, it would have been…”

Washington testified and denied involvement in the crime. He told the jury that Scarcella had beaten him until he falsely confessed to taking part in the crime. He said that at the time of the crime, he was with his girlfriend, who testified to that as well.

During closing argument to the jury, Kings County prosecutor Kyle Reeves hammered repeatedly that Todd had identified Washington.

On March 19, 1997, the jury convicted Washington of second-degree murder, second-degree attempted murder, and first-degree armed robbery. He was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

In 2011, Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes created a Conviction Integrity Unit, and invited defense attorneys to present cases in which innocent defendants may have been convicted. One case the unit learned about was that of David Ranta, who was convicted of murder based on an investigation by Detective Scarcella (who had retired in 1999). The Conviction Integrity Unit’s investigation found that one witness had been told to pick Ranta in a lineup, and that two prosecution witnesses—both convicted felons—were allowed to leave jail, smoke crack, and have sex with prostitutes in return for implicating Ranta.

In March 2013, Ranta’s conviction was vacated, the charge was dismissed, and he was released from prison.

A few months later, The New York Times published an article accusing Scarcella of misconduct in many investigations, including fabricating evidence, coercing witnesses, and concealing evidence of defendants’ innocence. The article reported that the same prosecution witness had somehow testified as an eyewitness in six separate murder cases. The report prompted the Brooklyn Conviction Integrity Unit to re-investigate 57 cases in which Scarcella was involved.

Kings County District Attorney Ken Thompson defeated Hynes in his bid for re-election in the fall of 2013, and eventually expanded the review to include more than 100 of Scarcella’s cases. Scarcella has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and the prosecution has said that he committed no crimes.

In late 2015, New York attorney Ron Kuby requested that the conviction review unit re-investigate Washington’s case.

On July 12, 2017, Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, who succeeded Thompson after his death in the fall of 2016, announced that the conviction review unit had filed a motion to vacate and dismiss Washington’s case.

“An analysis of the jury trial revealed that, despite the fact that an identifying witness recanted her identification within days, the jury was improperly given the strong impression that she did identify the defendant as a perpetrator and a crucial document in which she disputed the identification was not turned over to the defense,” Gonzalez said in a statement.

“Following a thorough and fair investigation by my Conviction Review Unit, it was determined that Mr. Washington did not receive a fair trial and crucial information that would have been useful to the defense was withheld,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez noted that other issues resulted in an unfair trial. “For example, when Washington took the stand, he was asked by the prosecutor if Detective Scarcella had told him that one of the co-defendants had named him as one of the shooters. He was similarly asked about other co-defendants who had been convicted – all in apparent violation of the prohibition against guilt by association.”

Gonzalez also noted that Todd was murdered in 2006, preventing investigators from interviewing her to clarify whether she identified Washington or not.

The conviction review unit also examined the cases of the six others involved in the case: Kevin Daniels, Jamar Smith, Willie Smith, Michael Lemonier, Quincy Hughes, and Quran Frazier. All six were either convicted at trial or pled guilty, and sentenced to prison terms ranging from 12 years to life in prison. Gonzalez said no evidence was found that merited vacating those convictions.

Washington was the 23rd defendant whose conviction was vacated as a result of the conviction review unit’s re-investigations. He later received $1.65 million in compensation from the New York State Court of Claims and $5.75 million from the City of New York.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 7/17/2017
Last Updated: 6/15/2020
State:New York
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Attempted Murder, Robbery
Reported Crime Date:1995
Sentence:25 to Life
Age at the date of reported crime:21
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No