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Vincent Ellerbe, James Irons and Thomas Malik Cleared in 1995 Killing of NYC Subway Token Clerk Harry Kaufman

THREE men Vincent Ellerbe, James Irons and Thomas Malik previously convicted on murder charges in a brutal killing of NYC Subway Token Clerk Harry Kaufman have had their convictions dismissed by a New York judge.



THREE men Vincent Ellerbe, James Irons and Thomas Malik previously convicted on murder charges in a brutal killing of NYC Subway Token Clerk Harry Kaufman have had their convictions dismissed by a New York judge.

Three men were exonerated on Friday in connection with the murder of a clerk who was set ablaze in a subway toll booth, one of the most horrible murders of New York’s tumultuous 1990s, after spending decades in jail.

Vincent Ellerbe, James Irons, and Thomas Malik were found guilty of murder, but the convictions were overturned by a judge after Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez identified “severe flaws with the evidence on which these convictions are founded.” He cited issues with witness identifications as well as skepticism regarding the men’s confessions.

In 1995, the three admitted to killing token vendor Harry Kaufman and were found guilty of the crime. After comparisons between the fatal arson and a sequence from the movie “Money Train” were made, the case reverberated from New York to Washington to Hollywood.

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez stated in a release that “the results of a thorough, years-long reinvestigation of this case render us unable to stand behind the convictions.” In addition to acknowledging “the suffering done to these men by this failing of our system,” he emphasized “severe issues with the evidence on which these convictions are founded.”

According to the prosecution, the confessions were at odds with the evidence at the scene as well as with each other, and witness identifications presented some difficulties. Some of the men have maintained for a long time that they were forced to make false confessions in the investigation, which was led by a detective who was later repeatedly accused of framing suspects and extracting confessions from witnesses.

Ellerbe, who was 44 at the time, was released from prison in 2020, but Malik and Irons, who were both 45, remained behind bars until Friday. Throughout the majority of the court process, Irons could be seen wiping away tears.

“It is a terrible nightmare. You have no idea what it is like to be incarcerated in that cell in its entirety “Ellerbe told reporters.

According to Malik, who believed that the police and prosecutors were to blame for the trio’s incarceration, “they knew the truth all along, but they hid it, purposefully, knowingly.”

According to Malik’s attorney Ronald Kuby, his client was still trying to wrap his head around the long-awaited news that prosecutors were looking into the case again on Friday morning.

Ellerbe is “extraordinarily delighted” to have his conviction overturned, according to Kuby, who also defends him. “Yesterday was the first day that he genuinely allowed himself to believe that he’s going to be free,” Kuby said.

On November 26, 1995, while working a nighttime shift at a subway station in Brooklyn, attackers tried to rob Kaufman before squirting gasoline into the booth and lighting it with matches while he begged them not to, according to authorities at the time. 50-year-old Kaufman fled the burning booth as it detonated. Two weeks later, the married father passed away.

The attack had some similarities to a sequence in the action film “Money Train,” which had just been released four days previously. Bob Dole, a Republican presidential candidate and the majority leader of the Senate at the time, spoke on the Senate floor to urge a boycott of the film.

Over the years, the authorities have given conflicting indications as to whether they think the movie was the murder’s inspiration.

After searching for potential suspects, police finally arrived to question Irons and obtained a confession that he was serving as a lookout. He claimed that the persons who set the toll booth on fire were Malik and Ellerbe.

Ellerbe and Malik have maintained at the time of their arrests that they were pressured into making false confessions. Malik has specifically stated that Detective Louis Scarcella yelled at him and banged his head into a locker during the interrogation process. During his testimony, Scarcella stated that he did not hit the then 18-year-old Malik, but that he did curse at him, smashed a table, and tried to intimidate him.

After conducting a review, the office of Attorney General Gonzales stated that it discovered that Scarcella and his partner provided important details about the crime scene to Irons. These details were later used by prosecutors during Irons’ trial to argue that his confession had to be true because it was so specific. However, it contained statements that were obviously questionable. For instance, he claimed that he was able to see his alleged co-conspirators leap into a getaway car, even though the vehicle was parked one block away and around a corner, according to the prosecutors.

At the time, Scarcella was a prominent homicide investigator in Brooklyn, which was a city that was struggling with crime. At its highest point in 1990, the number of homicides committed across the entire city was almost 2,200. This number has now dropped to a record low of 295 in 2018.

However, as more and more concerns were raised about Scarcella’s methods, the office of the district attorney in Brooklyn began in 2013 to investigate a large number of cases in which he had been involved.

Scarcella, who retired in the year 2000, has maintained that he did nothing illegal. In spite of the fact that more than a dozen of his convictions have been overturned, the prosecution have maintained the validity of scores of others.

The reexamination of prior convictions that is being conducted by prosecutors in Brooklyn is largely regarded as being among the most ambitious of its sort. DNA evidence, a growing amount of research on false confessions, and other circumstances made some prosecutors feel obligated to become more open to probing wrongful conviction claims. As a result, such efforts have been increasingly widespread during the past 15 years in New York and across the country.

According to what Kuby remarked, “This is no longer about one or two bad apples.” “This pertains to a decay that is systemic.”


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