Brooklyn borough president wants state help in 'wrongful convictions crisis'

BROOKLYN, New York (WABC) -- Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams on Tuesday called for an independent commission to investigate and determine all parties responsible for what he calls a wrongful convictions crisis.

The announcement comes just days after the July 12 release of 43-year-old Jabbar Washington, a wrongfully convicted Brooklyn man who spent 20 years in prison for a 1995 robbery and shooting in Brownsville.

"There was a clear intention to not find justice, but to do injustice," Adams said.

It was found that Washington's lawyers were blocked by prosecutors from obtaining key information that would have aided his case, particularly that the witness who identified him in a lineup later retracted her statement.

"It was like a bad dream, a bad dream," Washington said. "It had to end someday."

Washington's case is among 70 that the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office has investigated for potential wrongful conviction and exoneration, and since its inception in 2014, the office's Conviction Review Unit has led to the release of 23 wrongfully convicted individuals for crimes they did not commit.

Families of the wrongfully convicted support the independent panel, but they're also in favor of the expansion of the Brooklyn DA's CRU model throughout the city to district attorney's offices in Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island.

"I will be happy to share our programs and expertise with any commission dedicated to this important issue," Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said. "And my hope is that our practices will be adopted throughout the state."

Adams is asking for a thorough state-level review of procedures and past cases at the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office in order to determine all parties responsible, restore trust in local criminal justice, and ensure patterns of institutional malfunction are not perpetuated.

"It's supposed to be about justice and fairness, and I, at this point, will say it ain't where it should be," former NYCLU executive director Norman Siegel said.

Supporting the call for an independent commission is former appeals court Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman.

"One wrongful conviction is one too many," he said. "We are nothing if the public doesn't believe that, again, everyone gets their day in court, that this is a system that is fair and just for all."

Adams insists justice must still be served, even after a conviction is overturned.

"We can't just say, hooray an innocent person came home," he said. "The cold case must become hot again. We must open the files and renew the investigation."
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