MANHATTAN, New York -- A Manhattan judge on Thursday vacated the murder convictions of two childhood friends accused of killing a French tourist on New Year's Day 1987.
Eric Smokes, who was 19, and David Warren, who was 16, were sent to prison for the murder of Jean Casse, who was attacked and killed on West 52 Street minutes after the ball drop in Times Square.
When Casse was mugged, he fell and hit his head and died.
Smokes, 56, was released in 2011 after serving 24 years in prison. Warren, 53 was released in 2007 after serving 20 years.
The pair are still best friends all these years later. They never gave up on their friendship, and they never gave up on justice.
"I've gave no pleas- I didn't do none of that in court, that was for y'all. I knew we didn't do nothing," said Warren. "What would I take a plea for? I didn't do nothing. I wasn't going to sell him out, he didn't do anything."
And even though it took time, the pair never gave up on hope.
"Everyone says the system doesn't work. It does work, but it's slow at working," said Smokes.
The Post-Conviction Justice Unit of the Manhattan district attorney's office moved to exonerate the two men after an investigation with defense counsel found the teenage witnesses who testified at trial had been treated as suspects.
One teen who had testified in 1987 that he had seen Smokes and Warren commit the deadly assault of Casse saying he told police what they wanted to hear in order to avoid getting arrested.
Another teenage witness, who initially testified he had seen Smokes and Warren commit the attack, recanted his testimony and revealed he was told by police that another witness had already identified Smokes and Warren, and if he did not similarly accuse them, he would be charged.
"Eric Smokes and David Warren lost decades of their life to an unjust conviction. I am inspired by the unyielding advocacy of Mr. Smokes and Mr. Warren and hope that today's decision can finally bring them a measure of comfort and justice," Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said.
All these years later, all the pair wanted was to clear their names and restore their reputations.
"I wanted my wife to be here for this day, but she passed away. I guess she's here in spirit," said Warren.
Smokes' son, who was a baby when he left for prison, is now 38.
After 25 years in prison, and 12 years fighting for their convictions to be vacated, Smokes and Warren say they may return to court for compensation.