NEW YORK (AP) — A New York man has been cleared after more than a quarter-century behind bars for a deadly robbery, with prosecutors acknowledging that witnesses against him — including a 10-year-old boy — weren’t reliable.
Jaythan Kendrick walked out of a Queens courthouse Thursday, free for the first time since his arrest in the November 1994 killing of Josephine Sanchez. The 70-year-old woman was stabbed in the back on the grounds of a public housing complex.
“I’m very, very happy today because I never thought this would happen, although I hoped and wished that it would,” Kendrick, 62, told the court.
“I’ve just known one thing for the last 25 years: I did not commit this crime,” he said. “Nobody really understands what it is to be in prison when you are innocent, and you know you’re innocent, and you’re behind that wall.”
Queens Justice Joseph Zayas apologized to Kendrick for what he called a “monumental” miscarriage of justice.
“It took way, way too long to discover, and you, sir, deserve better than that,” the judge said as he overturned Kendrick’s murder conviction and dismissed the case. “We failed you.”
Kendrick, an Army veteran and former postal carrier who is also known legally as Ernest Kendrick, had been serving a sentence of 25 years to life.
His 1995 conviction rested mainly on the testimony of the 10-year-old — who had looked out at the crime scene from a third-floor window and identified Kendrick as the man he saw running away — and a second witness, a man who said he saw Kendrick running past him with a purse. A handbag was found in Kendrick’s apartment.
But recent DNA testing — which wasn’t done at the time of the trial — showed there was none of the victim’s DNA on the purse, contradicting the idea that the bag belonged to her. Tests also found another man’s DNA, not Kendrick’s, under her fingernails.
The now-grown child witness, who had initially picked someone else out of a lineup, recanted his identification of Kendrick in recent years. Kendrick’s lawyers raised doubts about the veracity of the second witness, and four other witnesses emerged with accounts that conflicted with his testimony.
“This is a textbook case of wrongful conviction exposing the worst flaws in our system,” said Susan Friedman, Kendrick’s lawyer with the Innocence Project, which worked on his case with the WilmerHale law firm.
Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said prosecutors now believe jurors would probably have acquitted Kendrick if they had heard all the evidence that’s now available.
In one of her first moves when she took office this past January, Katz created a Conviction Integrity Unit to review wrongful-conviction claims, and Kendrick’s soon became one of them.
“This case is a prime example of why the CIU exists,” she said in a statement Thursday.
Kendrick, meanwhile, is looking ahead to exploring and catching up on technology and other things he’s missed in prison.
“As I was told, there’s a whole new world out there,” he told reporters. “OK, let’s go.”