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Brooklyn DA asked to speed up retired detective's murder case reviews

By Curtis Skinner

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former convicts, inmates' families and legal activists called on the Brooklyn District Attorney's office on Wednesday to fast-track its reviews of questionable murder convictions linked to cases involving a retired former homicide detective.

Their pleas followed the release from prison on Tuesday of Jonathan Fleming, 51, whose murder conviction was vacated after he spent almost 25 years in prison.

Fleming's case was investigated by the Conviction Review Unit, set up by the District Attorney's office to look at murder convictions involving retired police Detective Louis Scarcella.

Cases linked to Scarcella came under scrutiny after The New York Times began reporting on instances in which the detective relied on the same eyewitness, a drug-addicted prostitute, for multiple murder prosecutions, and also that he delivered confessions from suspects who later denied making an admission.

Scarcella has defended his record.

"This is not one case. This is not two cases," said Derrick Hamilton at a rally at City Hall.

Hamilton was released on parole in 2011 after spending more than two decades in prison for what he said was a wrongful murder conviction in a case involving Scarcella.

"They ask us to wait. How long must we wait for justice?" he said.

The District Attorney is reviewing about 50 cases.

One review led to the overturning in 2013 of the 1990 conviction of David Ranta, who spent 23 years in prison after being falsely convicted in the murder of a rabbi.

Kenneth Thompson, who took over the District Attorney's office this year, said he has bolstered resources to investigate wrongful convictions and in February hired three more attorneys to conduct reviews.

He said his office has had four convictions dismissed this year, though none were affiliated with Scarcella.

"The important work by our newly created Conviction Review Unit is being done fairly and with integrity and has already led to the release of some defendants," Thompson said in a statement.

"And while we understand the need to work quickly, we are not willing to sacrifice thoroughness for speed in the pursuit of justice," he said.

The families and legal activists also called for an independent commission to review potentially wrongful convictions and asked that the New York Police Department record its interrogations.

In addition, in an effort to reduce the change of false identification, they want lineups of suspects to be conducted in such a way that the police officer accompanying an identifying witness does not know which person is the suspect.

"I do have hope that it will change. But I'm not going to rely on hope, I'm going to rely on action," said Hamilton. "I'm not going away."

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Gunna dickson)

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