CROWN HEIGHTS — Years after completing a 10-year prison term for manslaughter, a 58-year-old woman is set to be cleared in the 1992 death of a Crown Heights man, the Brooklyn district attorney's office announced Thursday, the latest in a string of wrongful convictions related to retired NYPD detective Louis Scarcella.
Vanessa Gathers, 58, was convicted in 1998 in the death of Michael Shaw, 71, who was assaulted and robbed inside his home at 170 New York Ave. in November 1991, D.A. Ken Thompson said, and died five months later from injuries sustained in the attack.
In May of 1992, Det. Scarcella, then assigned to the 77th Precinct, interviewed Gathers about the crime because she fit a description of one of the assailants, but released her without charges.
However, five years later, Scarcella again questioned Gathers in a follow-up investigation of the case and took her confession of the crime, which was the “sole evidence against her” at her trial in 1998, the district attorney’s office said.
In a recent investigation by Thompson’s Conviction Review Unit, the district attorney’s office found evidence that Gathers made a false confession, including “inaccuracies in the statement itself” and the fact that she couldn’t describe her role in the assault.
“In the interest of justice, the manslaughter conviction obtained against Vanessa Gathers should not stand and ... she should be given back her good name,” Thompson said in a statement.
Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Matthew D’Emic is set to consider the move to vacate the conviction on Tuesday afternoon, the D.A.’s office said.
The CRU is investigating 72 cases in which Scarcella was involved during his time at the NYPD. Scarella’s work has been called into question repeatedly over the years, beginning in 2013 with the exoneration of David Ranta and a follow-up investigation by the New York Times.
Since its founding in 2014, the work of the CRU has resulted in 18 vacated convictions. In that time, the D.A.’s office said the unit has also re-investigated 38 convictions and found them “just”; about 100 cases are pending review by the group.