Brooklyn resident Steven Ruffin, who spent 14 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, had his conviction overturned on Thursday. The case, originally investigated by disgraced ex-NYPD Det. Louis Scarcella, revealed serious errors, including Ruffin being coerced into confessing after multiple denials.
“I lost 14 years of my life for a crime I didn’t commit, and today will help me to move on from that chapter of my life, cleared of any wrongdoing,” he exclaimed.
During the court proceedings, Ruffin expressed gratitude to the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office and its Conviction Review Unit for their extensive work in reviewing his decades-old case. Overwhelmed with emotion, he paused to thank his parents, expressing grief that his mother did not live to witness his exoneration.
Ruffin was 18 when he was convicted of the 1996 murder of 16-year-old James Deligny in Crown Heights, a case later revealed to be a result of mistaken identity. Deligny was reportedly targeted after robbing Ruffin’s sister, Diana, of her earrings, according to the DA’s Office.
Following the mugging, a manhunt ensued, leading to a confrontation between members of a group and Deligny a few blocks from Ruffin’s home. A fight broke out, resulting in Deligny being shot. During interrogations by Scarcella, who was investigating the case, Ruffin, then 17, denied being the shooter on two occasions.
During the investigation into Ruffin’s wrongful conviction, the Conviction Review Unit report revealed that Ruffin’s estranged father, who was a police officer, was brought to the precinct to persuade his son to confess to the murder, falsely stating that he had shot the victim four times.
Ruffin was eventually released on parole in 2010. However, it took over a decade after his release for prosecutors to reexamine the case, uncovering several errors in the original investigation.
“The fact that they actively looked into my case, took the application, and the amount of resources that they put in to exonerate me, it, it—that is what staggers my mind,” Ruffin said. “If they would have never said a word about Scarcella, I would have never known because I live in Georgia.”
During the trial, the sister of Deligny testified that the shooter had a cracked tooth, similar to Ruffin’s. However, an investigation revealed that Ruffin’s defense attorney failed to inform the jury that the boyfriend of Ruffin’s sister also had a cracked tooth.
The boyfriend reportedly confessed to multiple individuals that he was the actual perpetrator of Deligny’s murder, highlighting a critical oversight in Ruffin’s defense during the initial trial.
“After a full investigation by my Conviction Review Unit, we can no longer stand by this old conviction and will move to give Mr. Ruffin his good name back,” Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said in a statement.
Ruffin’s exoneration becomes the 18th case overturned involving Scarcella, as reported by the Legal Aid Society. The Conviction Review Unit has resulted in 37 convictions being vacated since 2014.
“We will continue to correct miscarriages of justice and to learn from the mistakes we uncover to ensure that they never happen again,” Gonzalez said.