Once-Decorated Louis Scarcella Has Been Tied To Decisions To Overturn Several Convictions

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A former police detective who has been accused of coercing confessions in previous cases testified Friday in another wrongful conviction case.

Former NYPD detective Louis Scarcella came to the witness stand Friday in a hearing for Nelson Cruz, a man incarcerated for 21 years ago for the 1998 murder of Trevor Vieira in East New York.

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“I don’t remember the homicide going down… but I do remember some of the things I’ve done in the case,” Scarcella said in court.

Cruz’s lawyers allege the real killer told Scarcella that Cruz did it and claim the former detective used a witness, Andre Bellinger, who didn’t even see the crime.

“Did you ever tell Andre Bellinger Nelson Cruz committed the crime?” prosecutors added.

“Never,” Scarcella replied.

Since 2013, more than 50 convictions linked to investigations by Scarcella were put under review. At the time, the retired Scarcella told the New York Times that he did not expect prosecutors to find anything – but the district attorney’s office found otherwise.

Scarcella was the lead detective on the murder of Brooklyn Rabbi Chaskel Werzberger. The second-degree murder conviction of David Ranta was vacated after Ranta spent two decades in prison.

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In the years that followed, the Brooklyn district attorney’s office worked to get several convictions tied to Scarcella’s investigations overturned.

Louis Scarcella (credit: CBS2)

In 2014, Scarcella tried to minimize his role in the conviction of Rosean Hargrave for the 1991 killing of a correction officer in Crown Heights. Hargrave claimed he was framed, and after serving 24 years in prison, he was freed.

Derrick Hamilton had served 21 years in prison before being paroled in 2011. A decision in 2015 cleared his conviction.

In 2016, the Brooklyn district attorney’s office asked a judge to overturn Vanessa Gathers’ manslaughter conviction, based on a confession that prosecutors saw as too vague and inaccurate to be valid beyond a reasonable doubt. She also was freed after 10 years in prison.

A year later, Sundhe Moses served 18 years for the 1995 murder of a 4-year-old Brooklyn girl. When he was paroled in 2013, he insisted he was innocent, claiming that Scarcella beat him to give a false confession.

Jabbar Washington was also freed that year after spending 21 years in prison for a 1995 robbery and deadly shooting in Brownsville, Brooklyn. One person was killed and five more were shot. One of the victims, Lisa Todd, identified Jabbar in a lineup conducted by two former detectives – one being Scarcella.

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“Detective Scarcella lied on the witness stand about the sole eyewitness identifying Jabbar Washington,” said defense attorney Ronald Kuby at the time. “That eyewitness never identified Jabbar Washington as the person who committed the crime, or the person who was there in the apartment that night. She did identify him, correctly, as someone who lived in the building.”