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Derrick Hamilton

Other Exonerations with Misconduct by Detective Scarcella
Shortly after midnight on January 4, 1991, 26-year-old Nathaniel Cash was fatally shot at his apartment building at 215 Monroe Place in Brooklyn, New York.

Cash’s girlfriend, Jewel Smith, told Detective Frank DeLouisa that she had bailed Cash out of jail on January 3 and spent time with him at his apartment before going to a store. When she returned, he was lying on the ground after being shot.

Smith changed her account, however, to implicate 25-year-old Derrick Hamilton in the shooting. She later said that Detective Louis Scarcella told her that if she did not accuse Hamilton she would be charged with the crime herself. Hamilton had been paroled in August 1990—about four months before Cash was killed—after serving a seven year prison term for convictions of manslaughter, robbery and criminal possession of a weapon.

In March 1991, the police arrested Hamilton in New Haven, Connecticut at a hair salon that Hamilton jointly owned with Alphonso White. Hamilton was charged with second-degree murder.

Hamilton went to trial in Kings County Supreme Court in July 1992. Smith identified Hamilton as the gunman. She said Hamilton shot Cash and that Cash chased after Hamilton before he collapsed.

The defense had listed two alibi witnesses, but neither were called. One of the witnesses, Mattie Dixon, the wife of Alphonso White, later said that she and her husband, Alphonso, did not testify because police in New Haven, for whom White had acted as an informant in the past, threatened to arrest Alphonso if they testified for Hamilton in Brooklyn. In fact, Dixon later said in a sworn affidavit, she and her husband had collected hotel records showing that Hamilton was at a New Haven hotel at the time of the crime.

On July 17, 1992, a jury convicted Hamilton of second-degree murder. Before sentencing, Smith recanted her testimony, and the defense learned for the first time about a statement she gave to police under the name “Karen Smith” in which she said that she was not present when Cash was shot. At an evidentiary hearing on a motion to vacate the conviction, Smith testified she only implicated Hamilton after Scarcella told her she would be charged with the murder if she did not change her account.

The motion was denied in 1993 and Hamilton was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

Over the next two decades, Hamilton filed a series of motions attempting to overturn his conviction, but all were denied.

In 1994, he sought to vacate the conviction on the basis of an affidavit from a witness who said that two other men—Amir Johnson and “Money Will”—shot Cash. In 1995, while that motion was pending, two more witnesses came forward and said Hamilton was at a going away party at a hotel in New Haven for a man who was going to prison.

One of the witnesses, Kelly Turner, was working as a talent agent at the time of the crime but had since become a decorated police officer in New Haven. She provided a sworn statement that she was with Hamilton at the party until 1 or 2 a.m.—well after the shooting in Brooklyn. The other witness, Davette Mahan, said she was Turner’s assistant and that she also saw Hamilton and Turner together, discussing business, at the party.

Hamilton sought to expand his motion to vacate the conviction to include Turner and Mahan, but the judge refused because Turner and Mahan were not on Hamilton’s alibi witness list prior to trial.

An evidentiary hearing was held on the claim that Amir Johnson and “Money Will” shot Cash, but the judge said the witness was not credible and denied the motion.

In 1998, another hearing was held with testimony from an additional witness who said “Money Will” shot Cash. That witness also was not believed.

In 2009, Hamilton filed a motion seeking a new hearing to allow Turner and Mahan to testify in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing witnesses to testify to actual innocence if they had not been previously allowed to testify. The prosecution opposed that motion as procedurally barred. While the motion was still pending, two more witnesses came forward to corroborate Turner and Mahan’s statements.

One of those witnesses was Mattie Dixon, the wife of Alphonso White (who had since died). Dixon provided hotel records showing that she and her husband had rented a room for Hamilton at the hotel on the night of the party and that a banquet room was reserved for that night. In a sworn affidavit, Dixon said that the detective for whom her husband worked as an informant became angry for “being Derrick’s alibi” and that the detective told them to “forget about Derrick Hamilton” or go to jail.

In August, 2011, the motion for a hearing to allow the witnesses to testify was denied. In December 2011, Hamilton was released from prison on parole after previously being denied parole because he would not admit that he committed the murder.

Earlier 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 Louis 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: fabricating evidence, coercing witnesses and concealing evidence of defendants’ innocence. The article reported that Gomez had somehow testified as an eyewitness in six separate murder cases. The report prompted the Brooklyn Conviction Integrity Unit to begin to re-investigate 57 cases in which Scarcella was involved. 

In January 2014, the Appellate Division of the Kings County Supreme Court, in an unprecedented ruling, reversed the trial court in Hamilton's case. The appeals court eliminated a procedural barrier to criminal appellate claims to allow an assertion of “actual innocence” to be heard. Hamilton's case was remanded to the Kings County Supreme Court for a hearing.

At that time, Kenneth Thompson, the newly-elected Kings County District Attorney, assigned the case to his Conviction Review Unit. In January 2015, Thompson concluded, of the basis of a re-investigation of the case, that Hamilton was innocent.

The re-investigation showed that the medical evidence contradicted Smith’s claim that Cash was shot in the chest and then chased after the man who shot him. In fact, the medical examiner’s office said Cash was shot in the back and that the nature of the wound was such that he would have died almost instantly. In addition, ballistics showed that more than one gun was used in the shooting.

On January 9, 2015, Thompson and Hamilton’s defense lawyer jointly asked that Hamilton’s conviction be vacated. The motion was granted and the charge was dismissed.

By that time, the review had expanded to about 100 murder cases in Brooklyn, including about 60 of Scarcella’s cases.
Hamilton subsequently filed a claim for compensation with the New York Court of Claims and in 2016 received $3.75 million. In 2015, Hamilton filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking damages for his wrongful conviction. In November 2019, he settled the lawsuit against the cities of New York and New Haven for $7 million.

By February 2018, nine other defendants whose cases were connected to Scarcella also had been exonerated: Darryl Austin, Alvena Jennette, Robert Hill, Roger Logan, Shabaka Shakur, Carlos Davis, Vanessa Gathers, Jabbar Washington and Sundhe Moses.

In May 2018, John Bunn and Rosean Hargrave became the 12th and 13th exonerations connected to Scarcella.

In July 2018, Shawn Williams became the 14th exoneration connected to Scarcella.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 1/9/2015
Last Updated: 11/19/2019
State:New York
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1991
Sentence:25 to life
Age at the date of reported crime:25
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No