The New York State Appellate Court for the Second Department made a groundbreaking ruling in the case of Derrick Hamilton, allowing judges to rule on actual innocence claims in ordering a new hearing for Hamilton.
Derrick Hamilton was convicted of murder and sentenced to 25 years to life for a crime he did not commit. Although he was in New Haven, CT, at the time of the murder of a drug dealer in Brooklyn’s Bed Stuy neighborhood, notorious Brooklyn detective Louis Scarcella was able to “convince” a young drug addict to testify against Hamilton even though she had told cops at the scene she was nowhere near the murder. The judge in the 1991 case held off sentencing Hamilton for close to a year as he became aware of police and prosecutorial misconduct. That was until infamous Brooklyn prosecutor Michael Vecchione entered the courtroom.
Hamilton served over 20 years. While in prison he became a jailhouse lawyer and even received a paralegal certificate. He helped many men with their cases and helped free many others. He also filed a number of appeals on his own behalf based upon evidence of police misconduct, new witnesses, and even strong alibi witnesses including a decorated New Haven, CT policewoman. All to no avail.
Derrick contacted me from Auburn Correctional Faciilty in upstate New York after he read about my work in the Marty Tankleff and Damien Echols (WM3) cases. He asked me to review all the evidence and to help free him. I told him I could not take his case unless he was able to pay, as I had exhausted my ability to work pro bono on these matters. A few days later I received a $500 check from the Auburn Correctional Facility Commissary account…imagine my embarrassment. Derrick is a man you cannot say no to. Derrick was a street kid from Brooklyn with a record and he needed legal help and the resources of a large law firm. Unfortunately, although we tried, even those firms who profess their commitment to pro bono representation are not anxious to represent a Black man from Bed Stuy with a record. Luckily he found an excellent attorney, Jonathan Edelstein, who did take Hamiton’s case pro bono.
Although denied parole on numerous occasions, Derrick maintained his innocence and finally convinced the parole board in 2011 they should consider his innocence as well. Although he was free, Hamilton did not give up his fight to overturn his conviction. Now, this compelling man will have the opportunity to prove his innocence without the procedural bars numerous judges have used to prevent him from having a full review of his case. And along the way, he just might have helped an untold number of men and women in New York prisons who reside there innocently.