BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson is moving to vacate the conviction of a man currently serving a 25-years-to-life prison sentence for the 1991 murder of a woman in a Bedford-Stuyvesant park, the DA’s office announced Thursday.
Andre Hatchett, 49, was convicted in 1992 for the death of 38-year-old Neda Mae Carter, who was found dead, naked and badly beaten at Reinaldo Salgado Playground in February 1991, the DA’s office said.
The victim’s body was discovered with her arms splayed out and ankles crossed, similar to a crucifixion position, officials said. The Medical Examiner’s office determined she had also been dragged, with the cause of death deemed as strangulation and blunt trauma to the head.
After speaking with Carter’s mother, detectives learned that the victim had been with Hatchett on the night of the incident.
Jerry Williams, who officials identified as a career criminal, was the sole eyewitness to testify in the case, according to the DA’s office.
Williams testified that he and another woman, Yvette Hopkins, were walking in the park and heard what sounded like a woman screaming, then saw a man standing over a person on the ground.
The man yelled at the pair to leave, after which Hopkins called 911. The two left before police arrived, officials said.
When Williams was arrested for an unrelated burglary a week later, he told police in the 81st Precinct that he recognized another suspect in custody for a robbery as someone he saw commit a murder at the park.
Police investigated the man, but determined he had an alibi and could not have committed the murder, according to the DA.
Williams picked out Hatchett as the killer in a lineup later on, saying that he knew him to be a crack addict and recognized him from soup kitchens around the area.
Hatchett’s first trial ended in a mistrial after the judge determined there was “ineffective assistance of counsel,” the DA’s office said. After his second trial, he was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
In an investigation from Thompson’s Conviction Review Unit, the DA’s office found that Hatchett was "deprived of his due process rights" based on several factors, including the undisclosed unreliability of the witness.
His lawyer was never notified by prosecutors that Williams had initially identified another man as the killer, or that Williams told detectives he and Hopkins smoked crack on the day of the murder.
When asked by a prosecutor during the second trial whether he had smoked that day, Williams falsely claimed he had not, according to the DA's office.
The DA’s review also found that Hatchett’s medical condition at the time of the murder had not been discussed by his defense lawyer during the trial.
He had been shot in the legs and trachea six months prior to the incident and had been left with a weakened voice and was forced to use crutches.
Due to his condition, it would have been difficult for him to carry out the murder, according to the DA’s office, or shout loudly at Williams and Hopkins.
The Medical Examiner testified that the blows to the victim’s head required a significant degree of force, and that there was a violent struggle. Carter’s body was also dragged and arranged in a certain position, which would have been difficult for Hatchett given his state at the time.
“After a thorough and fair review of this case by my Conviction Review Unit, I've concluded that, in the interest of justice, Andre Hatchett's murder conviction should not stand and that he should be released from custody immediately,” Thompson said in a statement.
Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Matthew D’Emic is set to consider the move to vacate the conviction on Thursday afternoon, the DA’s office said.
The CRU’s investigations have resulted in 19 vacated convictions since 2014, and the unit has also found in its reviews that 38 convictions are “just.” Approximately 100 cases are pending review.