Based on the testimony of a single eyewitness, and with zero forensic evidence against him, Shawn Williams was convicted of a fatal 1993 shooting in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. He was sentenced to 25-years-to-life in prison. He was 19 years old at the time of his arrest.
According to an article from TheGrio, Williams has now been exonerated and awarded a $10.5 million settlement. This happened after the sole witness, who testified that she’d seen him with a firearm at the scene of the shooting, recanted, claiming that her testimony was coerced by a notoriously corrupt NYC detective.
Now 47 years old, Williams had his conviction overturned and was freed from prison in 2018, after serving 24 years behind bars.
“No amount of money can give me back the years they took from me,” he said in a statement. “But I am going to keep rebuilding my life and looking ahead to a brighter future.”
The detective at the center of the police misconduct scandal is Louis N. Scarcella, a high-profile homicide investigator whose unit handled 500-plus homicide cases per year.
Scarcella, once a highly regarded detective, retired in 1999 and fell under scrutiny in 2013, when he was accused of framing the alleged killer of a Hasidic rabbi, according to TheGrio.
The 2013 case was only the beginning. Since then, Brooklyn prosecutors have reinvestigated over 70 of Scarcella’s old cases, overturning more than a dozen faulty convictions and paying out millions of dollars to settle civil lawsuits brought by the wrongfully imprisoned. According to The New York Times, the $10.5 million settlement reached with Shawn Williams is the largest to date
Almost three decades have passed since Williams’ arrest and four years since his conviction was thrown out. TheGrio did not report whether the New York City Police Department had reopened the case, nor whether the witness who provided false testimony would face charges. TheGrio did, however, note that Williams’ exoneration was but one in “a series of other exonerations in New York and other states, several involving police or prosecutorial misconduct from the 1980s and 1990s.”
David B. Shanies, one of two civil rights attorneys who handled Shawn Williams’ lawsuit, said he felt gratified by the outcome. “Shawn has been through the fire for nearly 30 years,” he said. “It’s satisfying to see him come out the other side with his name cleared and some reparation for his ordeal.”