New York City prosecutors moved on Monday to vacate the convictions of two men who both spent more than 20 years in prison after being convicted in the 1990s in separate murder cases.
The office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said Jabar Walker, 49, who is also known as Jabar Moore, and Wayne Gardine, also 49, were both wrongfully convicted.
In the case of Walker, who was convicted in 1998 in a murder-for-hire case, Bragg's office cited the existence of "newly discovered evidence" of his wrongful conviction and said Walker did not receive meaningful legal representation.
"Not only was the case against Jabar Walker built upon unreliable and recanted testimony, he did not have the benefit of an effective defense attorney -- one of the constitutional bedrocks of our criminal justice system," Bragg said in a statement. "Despite these serious issues, Mr. Walker received a sentence that could have kept him in prison for his entire life. I am thrilled he can now finally return home, and thank the Innocence Project for its steadfast advocacy throughout this matter."
In Gardine's case, Bragg's office agreed with a court filing by the Legal Aid Society's Wrongful Conviction Unit that there was never physical or forensic evidence connecting Gardine to a 1994 fatal shooting.
"The only evidence against him at trial was the word of a teenager who claimed to have witnessed the murder, was on felony probation for selling drugs at the time he first incriminated Mr. Gardine, and changed his story several times between the incident and trial in statements to police, in the grand jury, at trial and post-conviction," according to the Legal Aid filing.
Gardine issued a statement, thanking "the whole team at Legal Aid" for working on his case.
Gardine also thanked Bragg and his staff "for their honest investigation, their respect for the truth, and for how quickly they worked on my case."
"I also want to thank my mom for being there all these years, and I want to thank myself for never giving up," Gardine said. "I'm happy that the justice system finally worked."
Gardine had been serving a sentence of 18 1/2 years to life in prison after a jury convicted him in the Sept. 2, 1994, slaying of Robert David Mickens, who was shot 11 times on a street in the Harlem neighborhood of New York.
"Unjust convictions are the height of injustice and while we can never completely undo the pain he has experienced, I hope this is the first step in allowing Mr. Gardine to rebuild his life and reunite with his loved ones," Bragg said.
Gardine, who moved to the United States from Jamaica with his family when he was 13, served nearly three decades in prison before he was released on parole in 2022. He was then transferred to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), where he remains in custody, according to Bragg's office.
Following Monday's hearing, the Legal Aid Society called for Gardine's release from ICE custody and the termination of pending deportation proceedings.
Walker, who was serving a sentence of two consecutive terms of 25 years to life in prison, was convicted of killing two men, William Santana and Ismael De La Cruz, who were found fatally shot in a car in Harlem on May 25, 1995.
Walker entered a courtroom Monday in handcuffs and exited a free man after serving 25 years in prison.
Bragg said in a statement that his office "agreed not to re-prosecute Walker in the interest of justice and because the case cannot be proved beyond a reasonable doubt."
Walker and Gardine are just a few of the more than a dozen people who have been exonerated so far this year due to wrongful convictions based on misidentifications, false confessions, police failure to disclose evidence and more.
The exonerations have been recorded by the National Registry of Exonerations, an exoneration-tracking project hosted by the University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law.
There have been at least 3,287 exonerations recorded by the National Registry of Exonerations since 1989.
More than 29,100 years have been "lost" in prison due to "wrongful convictions" that have been uncovered thus far, according to the registry.