Convictions overturned in 1995 NYC subway murder that resembled ‘Money Train’ film scene

·2 min read

Three men have been exonerated after being convicted as teenagers for the brutal murder of a New York subway worker who was set on fire.

After three decades behind bars, a judge dismissed the murder convictions of Vincent Ellerbe, James Irons and Thomas Malik after prosecutors cast doubt on the case against them.

The three men were convicted of killing subway token seller Harry Kaufman in 1995, in an attack likened to a scene from the movie Money Train which was released shortly before the murder.

All three maintained that they had been forced into false confessions by detectives who were later accused of framing suspects with false confessions.

Mr Malik and Mr Irons, both 45, walked free from court, while Mr Ellerbe, 44, was paroled in 2020.

“What happened to us can never be fixed,” Mr Ellerbe told the court. “They break you, or they turn you into a monster.”

A lawyer for Mr Irons said that his client was home with his mother when he heard the explosion and called 911 himself. That call was never played for the jury.

Mr Kaufman was attacked on 26 November 1995 as he worked an overnight shift to save extra money for his son’s future college tuition.

Transit workers dismantle the charred inner wall of a token booth at the Kingston Avenue and Fulton Street subway station in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, Nov. 26, 1995 (AP)
Transit workers dismantle the charred inner wall of a token booth at the Kingston Avenue and Fulton Street subway station in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, Nov. 26, 1995 (AP)

Prosecutors in the case said that the attackers tried to rob his booth, before squirting gasoline through the coin slot and lighting it with matches. Mr Kaufman, 50, ran from the explosion but died from his injuries two weeks after the attack.

Prosecutors who reviewed the case found that Detective Louis Scarcella and his partner fed crime scene details to Mr Irons and Mr Malik, while ignoring inconsistencies in their confessions.

“More than 25 years later, we do not have any confidence in the integrity of those convictions,” assistant District Attorney Lori Glachman told the court.

Detective Scarcella retired in 2000 and has denied any wrongdoing. Since 2013, the Brooklyn DA’s office has been reviewing many of his cases, and more than a dozen convictions have been overturned.

The Associated Press contributed to this report