By Ellen Wulfhorst
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York man was cleared of murder on Friday after serving 21 years in prison, one of dozens of questionable murder convictions linked to a retired police homicide detective.
Derrick Hamilton, 49, was sentenced to life in prison for the 1991 murder of Nathaniel Cash in Brooklyn, a fatal shooting his defense team said he long maintained he did not commit.
Hamilton said he was framed by retired police Detective Louis Scarcella, whose murder cases have been under review by the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office.
Cases linked to Scarcella came under scrutiny after the New York Times uncovered instances in which the detective relied on the same eyewitness, a drug-addicted prostitute, for multiple murder prosecutions, and he also delivered confessions from suspects who later denied making such admissions.
In Hamilton's case, investigators determined the account by the only eyewitness was unreliable, the district attorney said in a statement.
The conviction was vacated at a hearing before Brooklyn Criminal Court Judge Raymond Guzman, exonerating Hamilton who was paroled in 2011.
Hamilton left the courthouse wearing a cap with the words "Wrongfully Convicted" on the front and "Victims of Detective Scarcella" on the side, carrying his 2-year-old daughter in his arms.
"This is what I've been fighting for 25 years," he said to reporters. "One day in prison is too much for innocent men."
The Brooklyn District Attorney's Office has said it had dozens of Scarcella's cases under review. Scarcella has defended his record.
“Wrongful convictions ultimately destroy the lives of the people who are wrongfully convicted, as well as their families, and also do great damage to the integrity of the justice system," District Attorney Ken Thompson said in a statement.
"The people of Brooklyn elected me to ensure that justice is done and that is what my decision to vacate Derrick Hamilton’s conviction reflects," he said.
Hamilton said when Scarcella arrested him, "he kissed me on the check, like you see in the mafia movies, and whispered in my ear that I was going to prison for a murder he knew I did not commit.
"He succeeded in framing me and I served 21 years,” he said in a statement released by his defense team.
(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Eric Beech)