A woman convicted in a deadly robbery a quarter-century ago was set to be exonerated Tuesday after prosecutors concluded she made a false confession to a detective whose tactics have come under question.
Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson said his office would ask a judge to overturn Vanessa Gathers’s manslaughter conviction, based on a confession that prosecutors now see as too vague and inaccurate to be valid beyond a reasonable doubt.
“She should be given back her good name,” Thompson said in a news release.
The 58-year-old Gathers already has her freedom; after 10 years in prison, she was paroled in 2007 and completed parole in 2012. Her lawyer, Lisa Cahill, declined to comment ahead of Tuesday’s court date.
Gathers is the first woman to have her conviction disavowed as Brooklyn prosecutors revisit about 100 cases in one of the most ambitious reviews of its kind in the country. About 70 cases are tied to the same now-retired detective, Louis Scarcella.
Gathers’s case stems from a Nov. 18, 1991, robbery and assault in a Brooklyn apartment. The 71-year-old victim, Michael Shaw, died five months later of his injuries.
Gathers, who fit a description of one of the attackers, was questioned by Scarcella soon after Shaw’s death. She denied involvement but identified a possible suspect, and she was released, prosecutors said.
Five years later, Scarcella questioned Gathers again, and she confessed. She was convicted at a 1998 trial and lost appeals.
But her confession — the only evidence against her at her trial, according to prosecutors — contained apparent factual inaccuracies and lacked details, with Gathers unable even to articulate her own role in the attack, Thompson’s office says.
In recent years, a number of people who say they were wrongfully convicted decades ago have accused Scarcella of manipulating witnesses and intimidating suspects to produce false evidence. He has denied the allegations, and his lawyers have noted that prosecutors at the time vetted evidence in Scarcella’s cases.
But Brooklyn prosecutors have so far abandoned seven convictions, including Gathers’s, in Scarcella’s cases, as well as 11 other convictions that didn’t involve him. They are standing by 38 other convictions — 32 of them in Scarcella’s cases — so far.