John Bunn, third from right, poses with family members and attorneys Glenn Garber and Rebecca Freedman of the Exoneration Initiative at Brooklyn Supreme Court on Nov. 29 following a judge’s decision to vacate Bunn’s 24-year-old murder conviction. (Andrew Denney/ALM)
A Brooklyn judge has thrown out a murder conviction for a man accused of taking part in the 1991 shooting of two corrections officers, citing the “false and misleading practices” of a retired New York City police detective tied to numerous vacated convictions.
“Evidence of guilt, other than the unreliable testimony of a sole witness, does not exist in this case,” Acting Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice ShawnDya Simpson said in court Tuesday, ordering a new trial for John Bunn.
While Simpson read from her ruling, Bunn wiped tears from his eyes. His mother, Maureen Bunn, wept audibly and whispered: “God is a great God.”
Bunn was 14 when he and co-defendant Rosean Hargrave, who was 17, were arrested for fatally shooting Ronald Neischer and injuring Robert Crosson on Aug. 13, 1991, while the officers were sitting in a car outside of the Kingsborough housing project in Brooklyn.
Crosson, the only witness, picked Bunn out of a lineup arranged by Detective Louis Scarcella, though no physical evidence linked him to the scene.
Bunn was convicted as a juvenile of second-degree murder and first-degree assault. He was sentenced to nine years to life in prison and was paroled in 2009.
While the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office has worked to exonerate those who were convicted based on Scarcella’s investigations, the office fought to maintain Hargrave’s and Bunn’s convictions.
It appealed the vacatur of Hargrave’s conviction, arguing before the Appellate Division, Second Department, in September. In both cases, the office contended there was no evidence of misconduct by Scarcella.
Bunn was represented by Glenn Garber and Rebecca Freedman of the Exoneration Initiative.
Assistant district attorneys Diane Eisner and Bernarda Villalona appeared for the Brooklyn DA’s office. A spokeswoman for the office said it is reviewing Simpson’s 47-page decision and weighing its options.
In an interview on Tuesday evening, Alan Abramson, an attorney for Scarcella, criticized Simpson’s rulings in both the Hargrave and Bunn cases, saying that he and co-counsel Joel Cohen “find it troubling” that Simpson would issue her ruling in Bunn’s case at a point when a ruling by the Second Department in the Hargrave case is imminent.
“We believe that both of her decisions were erroneous on both the facts and the law,” Abramson said.