Woman to get back ‘her good name,’ 18 years after wrongful conviction

Vanessa Gathers is the first woman to have her conviction disavowed as Brooklyn prosecutors revisit about 100 cases in one of the most ambitious reviews of its kind in the country.

Seth Wenig/AP
Vanessa Gathers talks with Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson after a hearing to vacate her wrongful conviction at Brooklyn Supreme Court in New York, Tuesday. Ms. Gathers, who was convicted in a deadly robbery a quarter century ago, was exonerated Tuesday after prosecutors concluded she made a false confession to a detective whose tactics have come under question.

A woman convicted of killing a man in a deadly robbery a quarter century ago was set to be exonerated Tuesday, after an investigation into the case determined that she had been wrongfully convicted and that her confession had been false.

In announcing the decision, Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson said he would ask a judge to overturn Vanessa Gathers' manslaughter conviction, based on a confession that prosecutors now see as too vague and inaccurate to be valid beyond a reasonable doubt.

“I have concluded that, in the interest of justice, the manslaughter conviction obtained against Vanessa Gathers should not stand and that she should be given back her good name,” Mr. Thompson said in a statement.

Ms. Gathers is the first woman to have her conviction disavowed as Brooklyn prosecutors revisit about 100 cases in one of the most ambitious reviews of its kind in the country. About 70 cases are tied to the same now-retired detective, whose credibility has been called into question.

Gathers spent 10 years in prison for allegedly robbing and assaulting Michael Shaw in a Brooklyn apartment in 1991. Detectives first approached her in 1991, soon after Mr. Shaw's death because she fit the description of one of the assailants, but she denied being involved in the incident and identified someone else as a possible suspect, prosecutors said.

Five years later, the same detective questioned Gathers again, and she confessed this time, providing the only evidence presented at trial. She was convicted by a jury in 1998, and lost appeals.

But the investigators questioned the accuracy of her statement, and ultimately determined that she “made a false confession based, in part, on the defendant’s inability to articulate her role in the assault; perceived inaccuracies in the statement itself; and the lack of details in the statement.”

The Conviction Review Unit examined Gathers’s case because it was one of the dozens of cases involving retired detective, Louis Scarcella, following a series of accusations from several people claiming that they were wrongfully convicted decades ago, and accusing Mr. Scarcella of manipulating witnesses and intimidating suspects to produce false evidence. He has denied the allegations, and his lawyers have noted that prosecutors at the time vetted evidence in Scarcella's cases.

The district attorney’s office has abandoned 18 convictions so far, including seven investigated by Mr. Scarcella. Thirty-eight other convictions are standing by, 32 of which are Scarcella's cases.

This report contains materials from the Associated Press.

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