Another win for the Conviction Review Unit in the Brooklyn D.A.’s office
On Tuesday, February 23rd. Vanessa Gathers was officially cleared of a manslaughter charge that she spent 10 years in prison for – in another classic case of a false confession leading to a wrongful conviction. Ms. Gathers was found guilty of killing Michael Shaw in 1992. Her conviction in 1998 was a direct result of statements she made after coaxed by a corrupt detective named Louis Scarcella.
The problematic nature of Ms. Gathers statements was discovered in an investigation by Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson’s office. His office determined that, because of factual inconsistencies and lack of detail in the statements themselves, Ms. Gathers confession lacked validity. One of those factual errors was the declaration by Ms. Gathers that the victim was in a wheelchair when in fact he had never used one.
It is encouraging to see a District Attorney take the initiative in the effort to exonerate the thousands, possibly tens-of-thousands, of innocent men and women across the nation. It is also refreshing to see investigators take a closer look at confessions and the details that betray a false confession. Many false confessions contain details and assertions that are at complete odds with the facts of the case at hand. Yet prosecutors seem to have few moral qualms presenting these false confessions to oblivious jurors in order to secure cheap convictions, and capitalize on the praise, glory and career promotions that come with them.
Mr. Thompson appears to be a rare breed of government lawyers – one focused on righting the State’s errors rather than sweeping them under the rug.
“These wrongful convictions represent a systemic failure, a failure by prosecutors, defense attorneys, by judges, by the system”, he said. “These wrongful convictions destroy lives, and no matter what happens, Ms. Gathers will not get back those 10 years.”
Overzealous prosecutors who care more about defending the system than keeping innocent people out of prison should take careful note of Mr. Thompson’s words, because the way that you preserve the integrity of the system is by convicting the actual perpetrator and exonerating the wrongfully convicted.