Tag: “Brooklyn Castle”

Vanessa Gathers, 58, Exonerated After Serving 10 Years for Manslaughter Conviction in Brooklyn

Vanessa Gathers, 58, with Ken Thompson, the Brooklyn district attorney, after her manslaughter conviction was vacated on Tuesday. (Photo: ANDREW KELLY FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES)
Vanessa Gathers, 58, with Ken Thompson, the Brooklyn district attorney, after her manslaughter conviction was vacated on Tuesday. (Photo: ANDREW KELLY FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES)

article by Sara Maslin via nytimes.com

In a gray suit, her short hair neatly curled, Vanessa Gathers sat in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn last Tuesday, beaming as the judge spoke words she had waited nearly two decades to hear: The manslaughter conviction for which she had spent 10 years in prison was vacated, the judge said, after an investigation revealed that her confession to the crime was false.

In an instant, Ms. Gathers was no longer a convicted criminal. The judge, Justice Matthew J. D’Emic, smiled back. “Good luck!” he said.

Ms. Gathers, 58, is the first woman to have been exonerated by the Conviction Review Unit, a special unit created by the Brooklyn district attorney to look into scores of cases linked to Louis Scarcella, a retired detective whose tactics led to the wrongful convictions of more than a dozen people, according to the district attorney’s office. The unit is examining 100 cases, many of them involving Mr. Scarcella.

Mark Hale, an assistant district attorney, told the judge that an investigation into Ms. Gathers’s case had determined that she had been wrongfully convicted and that her confession had been coaxed, fed to her by Mr. Scarcella.

“We have grave doubts and, in fact, do not believe that it was true,” Mr. Hale said.

After the hearing, the Brooklyn district attorney, Ken Thompson, spoke outside the courtroom. “These wrongful convictions represent a systemic failure, a failure by prosecutors, defense attorneys, by judges, by the system,” he said. “These wrongful convictions destroy lives, and no matter what happens, Ms. Gathers will not get back those 10 years.”

Ms. Gathers was convicted of manslaughter in the death of Michael Shaw, 71, who was attacked and robbed inside his apartment in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in 1991. He died of complications from the assault six months later, in 1992. Ms. Gathers was convicted in 1998, and has been free since she was paroled on March 2, 2007, after serving 10 years in prison.

Ms. Gathers was approached by Mr. Scarcella on the street a month after Mr. Shaw’s death “because she fit the description of one of the assailants,” according to a statement released by the district attorney’s office. She denied being connected to the attack, and pointed to a woman who she believed had done it, but years later, as the investigation continued, she was again interrogated by Mr. Scarcella. In 1997, she confessed — the only evidence presented at trial.

But an examination by Mr. Thompson’s office determined that Ms. Gathers had “made a false confession based, in part, on the defendant’s inability to articulate her role in the assault; perceived inaccuracies in the statement itself; and the lack of details in the statement,” the district attorney’s statement said. Investigators determined that the “complete lack of a coherent narrative in the defendant’s confession, combined with apparent factual errors, amount to reasonable doubt in the validity of the confession itself.”

Among those inconsistencies, Mr. Hale said in court on Tuesday, were statements that the victim had been in a wheelchair. In fact, he had never used one.

While imprisoned, Ms. Gathers had an impeccable record and consistently maintained her innocence, even at three parole hearings, where it may have been more expedient to admit to the crime in hopes of being released, said Lisa Cahill, a lawyer with Hughes Hubbard & Reed, which represented Ms. Gathers, along with the Legal Aid Society. “And it wasn’t because of calculations or because of some Machiavellian foresight,” Ms. Cahill said. “It is because she is fundamentally a decent woman.”

To read more, go to: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/02/24/nyregion/womans-manslaughter-conviction-in-1991-death-to-be-vacated.html?em_pos=small&emc=edit_ur_20160224&nl=nytoday&nlid=58278902&ref=headline&referer=&_r=0

First African-American Female Chess Master Could Be Brooklyn Girl

Rochelle Ballantyne is a 17 year-old teenage girl from Brooklyn who is on her way to becoming the first Black female chess master. Ballantyne is one among a group of teens from I.S. 318 middle school in Brooklyn who will be the stars of a new documentary called “Brooklyn Castle”. The documentary chronicles the outstanding achievements of the middle school students.

65 percent of the students at I.S. 318 middle school in Brooklyn are living below the federal poverty level but the school still holds close to 30 national championships and is the highest ranked junior high team in the country. Rochelle is unique because until she joined the team, all the champions had been boys.

Ballantyne has been profiled in Teen Vogue where she shared her story and how she has stayed motivated along her amazing journey to chess stardom. The Brooklyn teen says that her grandmother is the woman behind much of her success.

She says:

“My grandmother taught me to play when I was in the third grade. I was really active as a child, and she wanted to find a way to keep me relaxed and get my brain going. When I first started playing, she introduced to me the idea of being the first African-American female chess master. I didn’t think about it much because for me it seemed like an impossible feat, and I didn’t think it could happen. I wasn’t as focused and dedicated as I am now. I didn’t think I was a good chess player—people told me I was, but it wasn’t my mentality at that moment. But then after she died, that really affected me, because she was the one person that always had confidence in me. She never pushed me, and she always respected me for who I was. I have to reach that goal for her.”

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