A new ProPublica article about the case review of the work of former NYPD detective Louis Scarcella questions if the inquiry will examine the prosecutors who worked alongside him. Scarcella handled some of Brooklyn’s most notorious murders in the 1980s and 1990s.
The review was ordered by Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes’ Conviction Integrity Unit who has yet to say if prosecutors’ will come under scrutiny.
But legal experts, defense lawyers for the men Scarcella helped incarcerate, and Hynes’s political rivals have all said that any investigation of Scarcella’s cases that does not extend to the prosecutors who worked with him would be fundamentally suspect.
Scarcella had a 26-year career with the New York Police Department, which means the number of current and former prosecutors he worked with to secure convictions extends across generations. Two are now New York State judges, others are accomplished lawyers and some are now senior officials in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office.
The role and responsibility of prosecutors in their work with detectives has been the subject of considerable debate as, with each succeeding year, the examples of wrongful convictions has grown. A prosecutor’s mandate — to win convictions or to determine the truth – too often gets confused or clouded, experts say.
Many of the prosecutors who worked with Scarcella on cases were there from the beginning and attended suspect line-ups and accepted the confessions he obtained. They relied on Scarcella’s evidence to win convictions.
“Only on TV do these cases stand up on their own; the reality is they are usually held together with a string,” Eugene O’Donnell, former New York police officer and prosecutor in Queens and Brooklyn who now teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice said. “If you’re trying to make a case against a guilty person you don’t want to pull too hard on that string and have the whole thing collapse. The more you know, the less sanguine you can be. It’s a dirty system, it’s an unsavory system: built from the bottom-up with troubling tactics and techniques, born in coercion and deception.”