Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez moves to vacate 3 convictions in 1995 case
The Brooklyn District Attorney is calling for three convictions to be overturned in the 1995 murder of a token booth clerk — a case that scandal-scarred ex-NYPD detective Louis Scarcella was a lead investigator on.
DA Eric Gonzalez in a hearing later Friday, is slated to ask a judge to vacate the convictions of James Irons, Thomas Malik and Vincent Ellerbe — who were each sentenced to 25 years to life in prison — over the death of subway token booth worker Harry Kaufman.
Malik and Irons are still serving their sentence, while Ellerbe was paroled in late 2020, the DA’s office said.
The decades-old murder was carried out by two men who approached Kaufman working in his booth at the Kingston Avenue and Fulton Street subway station on Nov. 26, 1995.
One poured gasoline into the coin slot of the booth while the other lit the flammable liquid on fire with a book of matches causing the booth to explode and blowing Kaufman out it.
Kaufman died two weeks later after suffering burns on 80 percent of his body.
Disgraced Det. Scarcella and his partner Stephen Chmil — who have been tied to more than a dozen tainted cases — led the investigation and identified the trio of teens as the suspects.
Gonzalez says he can’t stand behind the convictions citing problems with the suspect identifications, contradictory confessions and other issues.
For instance, Irons — who was 18 at the time — was allegedly fed details about the murder by Scarcella and Chmil. And some of Irons’ confession weren’t true and didn’t fit with the facts of the case, including his false claim that he had been shot in the leg a year earlier — which was not true or physically possible, the DA’s office said.
One witness made contradictory statements when she identified Malik — then-18 — as one of the suspects, the DA said.
The confession by Ellerbe — then 17 — also didn’t fit with the facts of the case including that he claimed he sprayed the gasoline on the front of the token booth, while the evidence showed it was poured into the coined slot, the DA claimed.
“The horrific murder of Harry Kaufman shocked our city and devastated a loving family, but the findings of an exhaustive, years long reinvestigation of this case leave us unable to stand by the convictions of those charged,” Gonzalez said in a statement. “Above all, my obligation is to do justice, and because of the serious problems with the evidence on which these convictions are based, we must move to vacate them and acknowledge the harm done to these men by this failure of our system.”
The New York City Transit President Richard Davey said in a statement: “This was a horrific attack and our hearts go out now, as they did 27 years ago, to the Kaufman family which deserves proper justice.”
The move to vacate comes following a re-investigation by the DA’s Conviction Review Unit which was looked into 70 of Scarcella’s cases resulting in many exonerations.