After decades in prison, man freed at NY prosecutor's request

By Sebastien Malo
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David McCallum exits Brooklyn Supreme Court after his conviction was overturned in the Brooklyn Borough of New York

David McCallum (C) exits Brooklyn Supreme Court after his conviction was overturned in the Brooklyn Borough of New York October 15, 2014. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Sebastien Malo

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Nearly three decades into a prison sentence he began as a teenager, a New York man who had been championed by boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter walked free on Wednesday after a judge vacated his murder conviction at a prosecutor's request.

David McCallum was 16 years old in 1986 when a jury in Brooklyn found him and Willie Stuckey, Jr. guilty of kidnapping and murdering Nathan Blenner. McCallum, now 45, had been in a state prison ever since. Stuckey, whose conviction was also quashed on Wednesday, died in prison in 2001.

After reviewing their cases, Ken Thompson, who became Brooklyn's district attorney in January, asked Judge Matthew D'Emic to quash the convictions, saying both men's confessions were false and contradicted by evidence.

Sitting beside Stuckey's mother, McCallum began sobbing, resting his head on a table, as the judge told him he and Stuckey were exonerated. Minutes later, McCallum, who was previously denied parole for insisting he was innocent, walked free and embraced his mother.

"I'm very, very happy but very, very sad at the same time because this situation in some ways could have been avoided," McCallum, dressed in a khaki jacket and a pair of beaten black leather shoes, told reporters gathered at the State Supreme Court in Brooklyn.

He said he was not bitter, but called the justice system "broken" and said he planned to speak out on the issue of wrongful convictions.

Rubin Carter, the former professional boxer who spent 19 years in prison on what was later ruled a wrongful murder conviction, became an advocate for McCallum, and before his death in April, said it was his final wish that McCallum be released.

Thompson said "not a single piece of evidence" linked to the two men to the crime.

His office had notified Blenner's family, who were "heart-broken" at the news, Thompson said.

Blenner was 20 when he was kidnapped after getting into his car on Oct. 20, 1985 outside his home in Queens. Children playing in a vacant lot in Brooklyn found his body the next day. He had been shot once in the head and robbed of his wallet.

McCallum and Stuckey were charged with murder, kidnapping, robbery and criminal possession of a weapon. Both boys confessed, but soon recanted and told the jury police had beaten them into confessing. They were both sentenced to between 25 years and life in prison.

Thompson has begun reviewing about 130 old cases, resulting in nine convictions being vacated previously. He has been critical of the city's police department and the work of his predecessor, Charles Hynes, who had held the office since 1990.

"I inherited a legacy of disgrace with regards to wrongful conviction cases," Thompson told reporters.

(Writing and additional reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Eric Walsh)