An upstate inmate who says he was framed for a 1995 murder in Brooklyn is hoping to chip away at his conviction this week at a high-stakes hearing involving a disgraced NYPD detective.
Eliseo DeLeon, convicted in 1996 of fatally shooting Fausto Cordero in a botched street robbery, will appear in Brooklyn Supreme Court Tuesday for the special proceeding expected to land Louis Scarcella and his retired partner Stephen Chmil on the witness stand.
A Brooklyn judge granted the hearing last year after Scarcella, a former homicide squad superstar known for nailing confessions and closing cases, suffered a stunning fall from grace with accusations of dirty dealings and a slew of overturned convictions.
The judge said it’s possible alleged police corruption amounts to “newly discovered evidence” in DeLeon’s case, but so far she has stopped short of finding “actual innocence,” saying eyewitness testimony still points to DeLeon’s guilt.
“We are looking forward to my client’s ultimate vindication. The true facts will be elicited through testimony in the courtroom,” defense lawyer Cary London, who took on the case after DeLeon won the hearing with a partially handwritten motion, told the Daily News on Friday.
A spokesman for the Brooklyn district attorney said his office stands by the conviction after a 2014 review.
“The three eyewitnesses who identified him as the shooter firmly stand by their identifications, the so-called alibi witness refuted his alibi claim, and he admitted his guilt on numerous occasions,” the spokesman said. “We will now defend this conviction in the court hearing, which is centered around issues that are irrelevant to his proven guilt.”
DeLeon, 42, was 18 years old when Cordero was shot on June 4, 1995, outside a christening party as his wife, children and a niece watched in horror.
He was arrested weeks later after three eyewitnesses, including the victim’s wife and adult niece, identified him in photos following a Crime Stoppers tip.
While cops claim DeLeon voluntarily confessed to the shooting during his interrogation at the 79th Precinct stationhouse, saying the gun “went off accidentally,” DeLeon has long claimed the Mirandized mea culpa was fabricated.
His attempts at appeal went nowhere for years. Then Scarcella, who retired in 1999, saw his image explode in 2013 when one of his biggest collars, David Ranta, was let out of prison.
Ranta was jailed for more than two decades in the slaying of a Brooklyn rabbi until authorities discovered evidence of alleged misconduct on the part of the cigar-chomping detective.
A witness who was 13 at the time recalled being sent to a lineup with instructions to pick “the guy with the big nose,” who turned out to be Ranta.
In DeLeon’s case, the defendant claims in court filings that Scarcella and Chmil were the ones who went to fetch Cordero’s wife before she picked him out of a lineup the day of his arrest. And he says Scarcella and Chmil were in the room for his questioning before fellow Detective Anthony Baker wrote the confession.
DeLeon never signed what he calls the “alleged oral statement,” and Baker later admitted it did not represent the defendant’s “exact” words but rather the “essence” of what he said, court filings state.
Nearly nine hours after the post-Miranda statement, DeLeon made a videotaped statement to an assistant DA in which he asked for a lawyer and said, “I’m not going to just go and be a fool, put myself on tape and say I did something I didn’t do.” That statement was not admitted at trial, due to a judge’s ruling, and neither Scarcella nor Chmil testified.
“Detective Scarcella played a very minor role in this case. Neither he nor Detective Chmil testified at trial,” said attorneys Joel Cohen and Alan Abramson, who represent them.
“We agree with the district attorney that Mr. DeLeon had a fair trial and that his conviction was properly upheld in four separate appellate proceedings. Moreover, the district attorney’s office has found no evidence of misconduct by Detectives Scarcella or Chmil in this or any of the other cases that have been sensationalized in the media.”