published : 2023-08-26

Three Men Cleared of 90s NYC Crimes: Case Review Points Out False Confessions

Armond McCloud, Reginald Cameron, Earl Walters' convictions for homicide, carjacking incidents overturned after case reevaluation reveals coerced confessions

A courtroom scene with the judge's gavel focused in the foreground, a symbol of justice rendered. The room is imbued with a dignified silence. (Taken with Canon EOS 5D Mark IV)

In a stunning turn of events, three men convicted of crimes in the New York City borough of Queens in the 1990s have finally tasted freedom after enduring long prison sentences.

These men, who were wrongfully convicted, found redemption as their cases were reopened and meticulously reexamined, exposing glaring evidence of false confessions and other instances of misconduct by the police and prosecutors.

On a day that will be remembered as a triumph of justice, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz filed motions to vacate their convictions, effectively eradicating all charges against the trio.

True to her commitment towards fairness in the criminal justice system, Attorney Katz emphasized on an obligation to reassess cases presenting credible new evidence suggestive of actual innocence or wrongful conviction.

The journey began when Armond McCloud and Reginald Cameron, then merely in their teens, were pinned down in 1994 for a horrific crime: the fatal shooting of Kei Sunada, a young Japanese immigrant.

Impaired by hours of relentless questioning without the guiding presence of attorneys, fatigue overwhelmed innocence, leading them to confess their involvement in the crime, a confession they would soon retract, denouncing it as coerced.

Despite their cry for truth, however, McCloud was put behind bars after a murder conviction in 1996, a sentence he dutifully completed before his release in 2023, while Cameron, who was forced into pleading guilty to first-degree robbery, walked as a free man in 2003 after serving more than eight long years.

A poignant representation of a male figure, backlit at sunset, symbolizing the released convicts like Armond McCloud, Reginald Cameron, and Earl Walters. The figure is clearly defined against the glow of freedom on the horizon. (Taken with Nikon D850)

This delicate balance of justice began shifting when Attorney Katz's conviction integrity unit sensed anomalies between the facts of the crime and the confessions extracted, prompting them to reopen the case.

During this review, a scene reconstruction expert inferred that the shooting could not have taken place in the hallway as originally thought and voiced in the confessions, but instead, the stairwell where Sunada’s body was found.

In a chilling twist, it was revealed that the detective responsible for extracting the ‘confessions’ had links to two notoriously corrupted cases resulting in vacated convictions — the unforgettable Central Park Five and the murder of Brian Watkins, a visiting Utah tourist, in Manhattan.

Meanwhile, Earl Walters found himself a victim of a fate similar to McCloud and Cameron.

Just 17 years old in 1992, Walters was questioned about a series of carjackings involving assaults on women; he testified his involvement after enduring 16 long, attorney-less hours of interrogation, despite key contradictions within his statement and the case evidence.

However, a ray of hope emerged for Walters when strikingly identical carjackings cropped up while he was detained, leading to the arrest and subsequent charging of three other men.

Yet the course of justice remained unperturbed; Walters was convicted in 1994 and served 20 long years before his parole in 2013.

An abstract image of fingerprints on a translucent surface, underlining the forensic evidence key to this case. Alludes to the innocence of the convicted men as fingerprint analysis eventually absolves them. (Taken with Sony A7R IV)

In 2020, the scales tipped favorably for Walters; acting upon a request from Walters' attorneys at the Exoneration Initiative, Katz's conviction integrity unit identified a fingerprint matching two men involved in the subsequent carjackings, a link that ultimately exonerated Walters and cemented his innocence as no forensic evidence tied him to the crimes.

Judge Michelle A. Johnson, presiding over the court, undertook the significant task of ripping apart the convictions; she resonated with the terse reality of Walters' case, troubled by how the glaring gaps in the investigation were ignored by the detectives and prosecutors.

Johnson issued an apology for their 'carelessness and indifference', describing it as consciousness-shocking.

Relieved, Walters shared his hopes for a fresh start, pointing out that with the judge's apology, he could start from ground zero.

An account of resilience, these men's tales serve as an arresting reminder of justice delayed and denied, a poignant call for an improved and fair criminal justice system.