(NEW YORK) — Jabbar Washington became a free man Wednesday after spending 21 years behind bars in New York City for a crime he always maintained he didn’t commit.
Washington was sentenced to prison for murder, in connection to a botched 1996 robbery that ended in a fatal shooting in Brownsville, Brooklyn. But the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office on Wednesday tossed that conviction, saying the defendant didn’t receive a fair trial and was “unjustly imprisoned” for decades.
“Following a thorough and fair investigation by my Conviction Review Unit, it was determined that Mr. Washington did not receive a fair trial and crucial information that would have been useful to the defense was withheld. Therefore, I am moving, in the interest of justice, to have this conviction vacated,” acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said in a statement Wednesday. “Given the unresolved issues of credibility in this case, we cannot prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt so we will not seek a retrial and move to dismiss the indictment.”
The prosecutors in this case, the Conviction Review Unit said, intentionally led the jury to believe that a key witness, Lisa Todd, had identified Washington as the gunman, which wasn’t true.
Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney Mark Hale, who heads the unit, said the prosecutors were “not disclosing that Ms. Todd would not, could not, identify Mr. Washington as a perpetrator.”
Washington is the 23rd person to be exonerated since the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office established the conviction review unit in 2014. According to ABC station WABC, his case was among dozens that were handled by New York City detective Louis Scarcella and are now under review for misconduct.
Washington, now 43 and a free man, described his time in jail as a nightmare.
“It was like a bad dream. It had to end someday. It had to end,” he said in an interview with WABC on Wednesday.
His mother, Martha Washington, said she waited 21 years for this day.
“I knew something was wrong with that case from the beginning,” she told WABC, with tears in her eyes. “But God is good, my baby home with me now.”
Emotional friends and family members surrounded Washington as he embraced his daughter for the first time outside of prison.
“She wasn’t even born when this happened, now she’s grown,” he said.
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