In light of the recent and untimely passing of Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson on October 9, 2016, I wanted and needed to write this particular blog and title it after DA Thompson and Dr. Rubin Hurricane Carter. I thought it would be appropriate to express my most profound and deepest appreciation for these two men who will forever be linked with me because of what they had the courage to do. These two men played a significant role in my exoneration on October 15, 2014 after serving 29 years for a crime that I did not commit. In 2013, when I first learned that DA Thompson was going to run for Brooklyn District Attorney, I could not contain my excitement over the possibility that there could be change coming in Brooklyn. I listened closely and followed as much campaign news as the prison lore would allow me, so when DA Thompson made the promise that he would be starting the Conviction Review Unit and that he and his office would be investigating wrongful convictions in a different way than his predecessor Charles Hynes, my legal team, and of course, my family were extremely excited and hopeful that we would at least be given a fair opportunity to have my case heard.
In 2014 when Mr. Thompson was elected district attorney, he immediately begin assembling the unit to investigate wrongful conviction claims. My attorney Oscar Michelen and I were appreciative of the transparency of the new office in terms of sharing information with us. We were also impressed that DA Thompson hired Harvard Law School Professor Ronald Sullivan to construct the new unit. Prior to DA Thompson getting into office Dr. Carter and Innocence International had been representing me for over 10 years. One could imagine how difficult it was for us to gain any meaningful traction in the case. We were literally denied at every turn, including the Hynes office. But, in 2014, something very momentous was happening. Although there was no guarantee that DA Thompson would eventually exonerate me, I did feel that we were going to be given a fighting chance – something we wanted for a very long time. After a nearly 10 months of investigation, I was about to discover if my final chance at freedom would happen. At this point, my state and federal appeals had been exhausted so this was it, and I knew it.
On October 15, 2014, I was told to report to the prison receiving room at the Otisville Correctional Facility, where I would be issued clothing for court. What usually happens in that situation is that inmates are taken from the prison to Rikers Island when he or she would stay until the court date. I was immediately taken to the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office where I would meet the DA Thompson and his wife. I will never forget DA Thompson telling me to “hold my head up high” as I walked out of his building down the block to the courthouse. At that moment, it wasn’t about the criminal justice system or the judicial system that had wronged me for so many years, it was about humanity. Here was the chief law enforcement office in Brooklyn treating me like a human being – something that rarely happened to me in prison. I will forever be grateful to DA Thompson. DA Thompson had personally called the mother of my co-accused Willie Stuckey and had her come to court and sit at the table with me as the judge dismissed our case. The meeting in his office would not be my last meeting with DA Thompson. Last year, DA Thompson invited my attorney and I to a church in Brooklyn where he was the keynote speaker. Prior to the event, DA Thompson introduced me to his two young children and also had them take a picture with me. It was a moment that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
As Dr. Carter lay on his death bed dying of cancer, he wrote a letter to DA Thompson published in the NY Daily News asking DA Thompson to look at my case. It would turn out that DA Thompson himself would succumb to a similar fate not long after answering that plea. Among many other things in my journey, this reminded me that our lives are connected whether we believe it or not. I believe the spirits brought these two men together to help me when no one else would. Let me be clear, this isn’t just about me, it is about Ken Thompson and Rubin Hurricane Carter. In my mind, it will always be about these two men.