Convictions Questioned

In this November 2009 photo provided by Marc Lamy, David McCallum sits for a photo while shooting a documentary film, “David & Me”, at Arthur Kill correctional facility in New York. Now, almost 30 years later, Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson plans to ask a judge Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014, to throw out the convictions of McCallum and the late Willie Stuckey, saying their convictions hinged on made-up confessions peppered with details seemingly supplied by police. (AP Photo/Marc Lamy)

NEW YORK (AP) — A man who served nearly 30 years in prison for murder was ordered freed Wednesday after prosecutors concluded he falsely confessed when he was 16.

David McCallum and the late Willie Stuckey’s convictions were thrown out Wednesday, at Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson’s request. Thompson said their convictions hinged on untrue confessions, made by teenagers, rife with inaccuracies and peppered with details seemingly supplied by police.

Their cause had been championed by ex-boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, who became an international symbol of injustice when he got his a triple murder conviction vacated.

David McCallum, left, his comforted by Rosia Nealy, the mother of Willie Stuckey, as he weeps after his exoneration, Wednesday Oct. 15, 2014 in New York. McCallum and Stuckey, who died in prison, were 16 years old when they were convicted of murder. A judge exonerated both men for wrongful conviction. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

In dismissing the convictions, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Matthew D’Emic said, “The evidence available to the district attorney after the investigation sufficiently convinces the court that the judgments of conviction should be vacated.”

McCallum put his head on the defense table and sobbed, his body shaking, as he heard the judge’s words. Stuckey’s mother put her hand on his back.

He walked out of court with his arm around his mother, Ernestine McCallum, to applause from supporters and hugs from his relatives.

He called it “a bittersweet moment, because I’m walking out alone,” without Stuckey, he said.

After their 1985 arrests, McCallum and Stuckey admitted kidnapping and killing 20-year-old Nathan Blenner and taking a joyride in his car. They quickly recanted but were convicted of murder.

David McCallum, center, hugs his mother Ernestine McCallum as he stands with his immediate family outside Supreme Court on Wednesday Oct. 15, 2014 in New York. A judge exonerated McCallum, and Wille Stuckey, who died in prison, of wrongful imprisonment for murder after nearly 30 years. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The admissions “were false in large part because these 16-year-olds were fed false facts,” Thompson said before the court date. No other evidence except the confessions tied the two to 1985 abduction and killing, he said.

McCallum, 45, has spent nearly two-thirds of his life in prison. Stuckey died there in 2001.

Theirs are the ninth and 10th decades-old convictions Thompson has disavowed since taking office this year, but the first in which he’s cited a false confession as the main reason.

The news stunned and dismayed Blenner’s relatives.

“We were led to believe, for 29 years, that they’re the killers. They confessed,” said his sister, Dr. Deborah Blenner, adding that the family found it troubling that a review by DA’s staffers and an advisory panel of outside lawyers could upend a jury verdict that appeals courts upheld.

The ailing Carter had been working on McCallum’s bid for exoneration for a decade after getting a letter from him. He wrote a Daily News piece in February expressing his “final wish” — a fresh look at McCallum’s conviction.

“My aim in helping this fine man is to pay it forward, to give the help that I received as a wrongly convicted man to another who needs such help now,” wrote Carter, who died of prostate cancer two months later.

McCallum and Stuckey were arrested after Blenner was found shot dead in a park, his wallet gone, in Brooklyn in October 1985. Back in Blenner’s middle-class Queens neighborhood, witnesses told police they had seen two men push Blenner into his Buick Regal and drive away. The car was found, torched, a few days later in Brooklyn.

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson, left, points to time-line photo display of individuals exonerated in wrongful conviction cases, as he speaks during a press conference, Wednesday Oct. 15, 2014, in New York. Thompson said he will ask a judge to throw out the convictions of David McCallum and the late Willie Stuckey, saying their murder convictions hinged on made-up confessions peppered with details seemingly supplied by police. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

McCallum and Stuckey gave confessions naming the other as the gunman but soon professed their innocence. The teens were convicted and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison after a trial that featured their confessions and a witness’ testimony that Stuckey had sought to get rid of a gun with “a body on it”; Thompson says the witness’ credibility has proven questionable.

They lost appeals, and Thompson’s predecessor reviewed McCallum’s and Stuckey’s convictions but decided to stand by them last year.

Thompson, whose office has been examining more than 100 mostly homicide cases from the 1980s and 1990s, said he was struck by inconsistencies and improbabilities in McCallum’s and Stuckey’s videotaped and written statements.

Stuckey described commenting on a woman’s car in Blenner’s neighborhood shortly before the kidnapping, a remark she reported hearing as two men eyeballed her car. But the woman’s description of the men didn’t match Stuckey and McCallum, and prosecutors at the time took inconsistent positions, Thompson said: Although they embraced Stuckey’s confession, they said the defendants weren’t the men she saw.

“How can we say that Stuckey’s confession was valid?” Thompson asked.

Stuckey also described three shots — something a witness had said to police. Authorities ultimately found evidence of only one shot, Thompson said. Police also didn’t find the gun where Stuckey said he’d hidden it, under his mattress, and the statements described an hours-long drive by two teenagers whom no one had ever seen drive at all, the DA noted.

The teens also said the shooting happening as night fell. Medical examiners determined Blenner died around 3:15 p.m.

The detective who took the confessions has died.

McCallum, the subject of a recent documentary film, “David & Me,” has said he felt pressed to confess and implicate Stuckey after being told Stuckey had done the same to him.

Recent DNA tests and fingerprint analyses from the stolen car matched other people, fueling questions about the case, Michelen said. No one else has been charged.


Associated Press researcher Susan James contributed to this report.


Reach Jennifer Peltz on Twitter @jennpeltz