Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announced on Thursday that his office would move to vacate the 1993 murder and assault conviction of Carlos Weeks, after an investigation by the DA’s Conviction Review Unit (CRU) found that the witnesses whose testimony sent him to jail were not credible.
Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Dineen Riviezzo granted the motion requested by both the DA and by Weeks’ counsel, the Legal Aid Society and Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, to vacate his conviction. She then ordered Weeks to be immediately released.
“There’s no words that this court can possibly say to give Mr. Weeks back those years,” Justice Riviezzo said.
Weeks, 46, served 26 years out of a 27½ years to life sentence for a 1993 shooting that left 21-year-old Frank Davis dead and a 10-year-old girl seriously wounded. He was incarcerated in various facilities throughout that period, including Elmira, Sing Sing, Coxsackie, and most recently at Eastern Correctional Facility in Ulster County. Weeks was 20 years old when he was arrested for the shooting, and had been proclaiming his innocence since then.
Prosecutors with the CRU told the judge that the testimony of two sisters, which was the sole basis of the conviction, was not credible. The two sisters lived on the 12th floor of one of the buildings at Tompkins Houses and said they had seen Weeks fire a gun and flee the scene. Mark Hale, head of the CRU, said that it was implausible that they could recognize faces from 12 stories up, and that both sisters gave inconsistent testimony in court on various occasions.
“Their testimony had all the character of having been reinvented with every telling,” Hale said. “It was that inconsistent, it was that varied.”
Two decades later, in 2015, after Davis Polk & Wardwell and Legal Aid had taken up Weeks’ case, and the CRU began investigating upon referral, one sister recanted her testimony and the other said she had no memory of the incident. Hale said that the DA’s had, at the time, not properly scrutinized the testimony given by the sisters.
Hale said that the sisters’ motive in lying to authorities was to secure a deal for a relative, Marshall Taylor, who had been arrested on unrelated charges; Taylor did not secure a deal and committed suicide while incarcerated.
The CRU also found that Weeks had an alibi, being elsewhere at the time of the shooting.
“This was really a terrible situation where eyewitness testimony convicted a man who was otherwise innocent,” Gonzalez told reporters outside the courtroom. “I wish him the best of luck.”
Weeks’ case is the 27th overturned by the CRU, which was started under Gonzalez’s late predecessor Ken Thompson. Brooklyn’s CRU was one of the first of its kind in the country when it was started in 2014.
In a brief statement to reporters, Weeks said that he was feeling “great” and expressed gratitude to both Gonzalez and his attorneys. He also voiced support for the CRU’s work in general.
“I hope Gonzalez continues with his Conviction Review Unit work,” Weeks said, “because there’s a lot of guys up there that need it.”