Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes revealed that his offices Conviction Integrity Unit will reopen every murder case that resulted in a guilty verdict that was investigated by Detective Louis Scarcella. The reexamination is a result of research done by the New York Times, which found several patterns throughout Scarcella’s investigations that suggest foul play.
Scarcella was a popular detective in the 1980s and 1990s, investigated over 175 murder cases, and was brought in as a consultant on an additional 175. His involvement was called into question earlier this year when a Brooklyn judge freed David Ranta, who spent 23 years in prison after being falsely convicted of the murder of a rabbi. The conviction was overturned based upon scrutiny of the police work done by Scarcella and his partner at the time.
The majority of Scarcella’s investigations occurred during New York City’s crime wave of the late 80s and early 90s, when there were sometimes six homicides each day, putting incredible strain on both the police department and the justice system. Scarcella retired from the police force in 1999.
Among the peculiarities surrounding Scarcella’s investigation, perhaps the most unusual is his reuse of witness Teresa Gomez. Gomez was a drug addict sleeping on the streets of Crown Heights. She witnessed at least four murders that were being investigated by Scarcella during his career. While her testimony was frequently contradicted by the record, she played a key role in the murder conviction of Robert Hill as well as convictions for Hill’s two step-brothers for a different murder. Scarcella is also accused of rigging suspect line ups and intimidating witnesses.
Scarcella was well known throughout the police department for playing by his own rules, and it is believed that he may have coerced some suspects and witnesses into testifying to events that did not occur. For his part, Scarcella claims that he just has a knack for speaking to people. He told the New York Times, “There cases where suspects talked to one detective and they got nothing, and they called me and I got statements. A lot of guys don’t know how to talk with people. Sometimes I would cry with them. Sometimes I would pray with them. Sometimes I would sit with them for hours and hours and hours.”
Scarcella admitted that he was surprised by the investigation, and felt that he done everything in his career by the rules, saying that he was not smart enough to trick both a jury and a judge.