Eric Smokes, 56, and David Warren, 53, both served two decades in prison for the murder they always maintained they did not commit
Two best friends, who in 1987 were convicted of a murder in New York City they never committed and served more than 20 years in prison, had their convictions overturned this week.
Eric Smokes, now 56, and David Warren, 53, had been found guilty of murdering Jean Casse, a French tourist who was attacked and killed early in the morning of New Year’s Day 1987 near Times Square, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office said in a release Wednesday.
Smokes was 19 at the time of the attack, while Warren was 16. The pair, who have been friends since childhood, maintained that while they were in Manhattan that night to watch the ball drop, they never went above 48th Street, The New York Times reported, citing court documents. Casse was killed on 52nd Street.
Still, both Smokes and Warren were convicted after witnesses claimed they were at the scene, and the pair were sentenced to 15 years to life in prison, NBC New York reported. Warren was paroled in 2007 while Smokes was released in 2011.
In the years since, the teenage witnesses who testified against the pair have subsequently said they were treated as suspects by police and felt pressured to lie. Further, the DA’s office said, Warren and Smokes both had alibis corroborated by their friends on the night of the murder and the description of the perpetrator did not match either of the falsely convicted men.
A motion to dismiss the convictions was denied in 2020, court records indicate, but a year later the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, under new DA Alvin Bragg began reinvestigating the case, as part of the newly established Post-Conviction Justice Unit.
After finding numerous issues with the investigation, Bragg recommended that both men’s convictions be overturned.
Court records indicate that on Wednesday, State Supreme Court Judge Stephen Antignani vacated the convictions, thus formally clearing the names of both Smokes and Warren.
“Eric Smokes and David Warren lost decades of their life to an unjust conviction,” Bragg said in a statement. “I am inspired by the unyielding advocacy of Mr. Smokes and Mr. Warren and hope that today’s decision can finally bring them a measure of comfort and justice. I thank our Post-Conviction Justice Unit for its thorough reinvestigation, and to the Court for its careful consideration of this matter. It is never too late to reconsider the integrity of old convictions, because everyone in New York deserves equal justice under the law.”
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NBC New York reported that Warren and Smokes intend to file a civil lawsuit.
"There was tunnel vision, but we were never going to stop fighting until we took our last breath," Smokes said according to the outlet.
Despite the ordeal, Smokes and Warren have remained close friends, ABC 7 reported.
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