3 men exonerated in NYC after case reviews spotlighted false confessions in 1990s

NEW YORK (AP) — Three men who were convicted of crimes in the New York City borough of Queens in the 1990s and served long prison sentences have been exonerated after reexaminations of their cases found evidence of false confessions and other examples of malfeasance by police and prosecutors.

The men were cleared of all charges in two separate cases on Thursday after Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz filed motions to vacate their convictions.

“Fairness in the criminal justice system means we must re-evaluate cases when credible new evidence of actual innocence or wrongful conviction emerges,” Katz said in a news release. "Those who have served prison time for crimes they demonstrably did not commit deserve to have the slate wiped clean.”

Armond McCloud, then 20, and Reginald Cameron, then 19, were arrested in 1994 in the fatal shooting of Kei Sunada, a 22-year-old Japanese immigrant, in his apartment building. They confessed after being questions for several hours without attorneys. Both later recanted and said their confessions had been coerced.

McCloud was convicted of murder in 1996 and sentenced to 25 years to life. He was released in January 2023.

Cameron pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery in exchange for the dismissal of murder charges. He served more than eight years in prison and was paroled in 2003.

Katz's conviction integrity unit began reinvestigating the case after an internal review found potential discrepancies between the facts of the crime and the confessions that were the basis for the convictions.

As part of the investigation, a crime scene reconstruction expert visited the building where Sunada had been shot and determined that the shooting could only have occurred in the stairwell, where his body was found, and not in the hallway, as described in the men's confessions and in the police report.

Katz noted additionally that the detective who obtained McCloud's and Cameron's confessions was connected to two notorious cases in which convictions were later vacated — the Central Park Five case and the murder of Utah tourist Brian Watkins in a Manhattan subway station.

The other case involved Earl Walters, who was 17 in 1992 when he was questioned about two carjackings in which women had been robbed and assaulted.

Walters confessed to taking part in the carjackings after being interrogated for 16 hours without an attorney, Katz said.

Walters was arrested even though his statement included assertions that were at odds with the accounts of the victims and with other evidence in the case, investigators reexamining the case found.

Additionally, three similar carjackings of women took place while Walters was in custody after his arrest, and three men were eventually charged with committing those crimes.

Walters was nonetheless convicted in March 1994 and served 20 years in prison. He was paroled in 2013.

Walters' attorneys from the Exoneration Initiative asked Katz's conviction integrity unit to review his case in 2020. A fingerprint analysis linked two of the men charged in the later series of carjackings to the crimes Walters had been convicted of, Katz said. No forensic evidence linked Walters to the carjackings.

All three men were in court on Thursday when Judge Michelle A. Johnson threw out the convictions, The New York Times reported.

McCloud told the judge, “Ten thousand six hundred and seven days. That equates to 29 years and 15 days exactly. I’ll be the first to tell you that those 29 years were not kind to me.”

Cameron said that although he is happy that his name has been cleared, “it doesn’t fix things.” He said the exoneration "doesn’t fix this scar on my face,” pointing to a four-inch line across his right cheek from a wound in prison.

Johnson said the facts of Walters’s case were “particularly troubling" and that detectives and prosecutors ignored “glaring red flags” in the investigation.

She apologized to Walters and said that the “carelessness and indifference” shown in his case “shocks the consciousness.”

Walters said that after the apology, “Now I can have, like, ground zero to start from.”