Wrongfully convicted man who served 33 years reaches $16M settlement with Suffolk County

NORTH BELLPORT, Suffolk County (WABC) -- A wrongfully convicted man who spent 33 years behind bars for the stabbing and strangling of a 14-year-old girl has reached a $16 million settlement with Suffolk County, Executive Steve Bellone announced Friday.

Keith Bush, 64, was convicted in the 1975 murder of Sherese Watson in North Bellport, and his exoneration came 44 years after his arrest, making it the longest running murder case to be overturned in New York state history and one of the longest in U.S. history.

Bush filed a lawsuit against Suffolk County in 2019 after a judge dropped all charges and cleared his status as a registered level three sex offender.

"There was something that drove me that enabled me to continue to fight," Bush said.

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Carlton Roman, found guilty in the murder of Lloyd Witter and attempted murder of Jomo Kenyatta, had all charges dropped Monday.

Suffolk County executive Steve Bellone announced the settlement with the county.

"There is a cost to every injustice that occurs, a moral cost a cost to the individuals and to their families," Bellone said. "As county executive and on behalf of the people of this county, I am so sorry for what you unjustly endured here."

The case being overturned came as the result of a 9-month investigation and review of the case by Suffolk County's Conviction Integrity Bureau (CIB), which revealed Bush's innocence.

He was a 17-year-old junior at Bellport High School at the time of the murder and spent more than half his life in prison.

The judge ruled the conviction was tainted because prosecutors didn't disclose that police had interviewed another possible suspect, John Jones.

After Bush's lawyer sued for case records in 2018, authorities turned over a statement from the other potential suspect, now dead, saying he'd stumbled over Watson's body.

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Grant Williams, who spent 23 years in prison for the 1996 murder of Shdell Lewis, had his conviction vacated Thursday after a review of the case.

As a result of the review, a written confession by Bush was deemed false, most likely coerced by police, and they found that the murder weapon prosecutors said was used was not actually the murder weapon.

Officials say detectives had manufactured a murder weapon, a hair pick from Bush's home.

"Forty-four years is more than a lifetime of suffering, and I know that it cannot be brought back," Bush said at the time of his exoneration. "But there are opportunities to learn, to grow, and believe me, I have learned and grown as a result of that."

The full Suffolk County Legislature is expected to vote on the agreement next week.

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