A 63-year-old man who spent the last 25 years of his life in prison for a murder he says he did not commit was exonerated at the Queens Supreme Court on November 19 after both the prosecution and his defense attorneys asked the judge to vacate his conviction based on new evidence.
According to New York Daily News, Ernest “Jaythan” Kendrick was arrested and charged after fatally stabbing a 70-year-old woman outside an apartment complex in Queens. One of the witnesses at the time – a 10-year-old boy – identified Kendrick as the perpetrator when he was lined up together with other suspects at the police station.
Though the child – who witnessed the stabbing incident while he was over 100 feet away from the crime scene – initially identified a different suspect, detectives reportedly made him go back to pick again. This time around, he identified Kendrick.
“This is a textbook case of wrongful conviction exposing the worst flaws in our system — racial profiling, unduly suggestive identification procedures, and a lack of police accountability at very least,” Susan Friedman, Kendrick’s Innocence Project attorney, said.
With no physical evidence implicating Kendrick in the crime, he was still sentenced to 25 years to life for murder and eight to 25 years for robbery, the Innocence Project said.
New tests that were obtained by the non-profit organization and the Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) when they were re-investigating the case, however, revealed the DNA that was found under the victim’s fingernails was that of a different person, not Kendrick, according to NBC New York. Tests that were also conducted on a purse allegedly stolen during the incident did not find Kendrick’s DNA on it. Statements from new witnesses also reportedly cleared Kendrick of the crime.
“I walked the same path as the victim and the killer and we decided this was the right thing to do,” Melinda Katz, the District Attorney of Queens, said. “I am the District Attorney but I believe we need to seek justice.” The CIU was set up by Katz to look into possible wrongful conviction cases or cases of actual innocence.
“Mr. Kendrick has endured an unimaginable injustice for over 25 years. He has spent decades trying to right this wrong, but the system failed him at every step … Thankfully, the new evidence in this case, including DNA, has provided overwhelming proof of Mr. Kendrick’s innocence,” Friedman said.
The then 10-year-old witness, who is now in his 30s, also recanted his identification, saying “he never could identify the perpetrator’s face,” the Innocence Project said.
“I’m very, very happy today because I never thought this would happen, although I hoped and wished that it would,” Kendrick said after he was exonerated. “I’ve just known one thing for the last 25 years: I did not commit this crime … Nobody really understands what it is to be in prison when you are innocent and you know you’re innocent and you’re behind that [prison] wall.”
During the hearing, presiding judge Joseph Zayas apologized to Kendrick for the way the case was initially handled although he admitted the apology “comes way too late.” Judge Zayas did not sit on the original case.
“In your case, the miscarriage of justice, in my view, is monumental. And it took way, way too long to discover — and you, sir, deserve better than that,” Zayas said.