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Man exonerated in 1996 Brooklyn killing after 14 years in prison

  • Stephen Ruffin, who served 14 years in prison for a mass shooting in the 1990s, was wrongly convicted and acquitted this week.
  • Ruffin's conviction is one of more than 30 denied by Brooklyn prosecutors over the past decade.
  • The shooting was a case of mistaken identity, and Ruffin confessed under suspicious circumstances, but later recanted.

A man who served 14 years in prison for a 1990s mass shooting was found not guilty Thursday after prosecutors said they believed the killer was an acquaintance with whom he had been involved for decades.

“I lost 14 years of my life for a crime I didn't commit,” Stephen Ruffin said, sighing with emotion before telling a Brooklyn judge.

Ruffin, who was paroled in 2010 and has since built a career in health care in Georgia, said having his manslaughter conviction dismissed and clearing his name “will help me move forward.” Ta.

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“If you know you're innocent, don't give up on your case. Keep fighting, because justice will prevail,” Ruffin, 45, said outside court. “That's all I've wanted for 30 years. I want someone to listen to me, really listen to what I'm saying, and look into what I'm telling them. ”

Stephen Ruffin, who served 14 years in prison for a mass shooting in the 1990s, speaks to the media in Brooklyn, New York, after being acquitted on January 18, 2024. Prosecutors said they now believe the killer was an acquaintance of Ruffin's alleged involvement. For decades. (AP Photo/Jennifer Peltz)

Prosecutors say they are considering whether to charge the man now believed to have shot and killed 16-year-old James Deligny during a confrontation over stolen earrings on a Brooklyn street in February 1996. Ta. Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said after court that he would not be indicted immediately, if at all.

“You have to be able to convict him beyond a reasonable doubt, and you have to make sure that the evidence is sufficient to do so,” prosecutors said when Ruffin went to trial. There was no, Gonzalez said. “Many factors are working against us, not only procedurally but also factually. Unfortunately, this was 30 years ago.”

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Ruffin's conviction is the latest of more than 30 convictions that Brooklyn prosecutors have denied after reinvestigations over the past decade.

More than a dozen people, including Ruffin, had ties to former detective Luis Scarcella. Although he was praised in the 1980s and 1990s for his case-solving skills, defendants have accused him of coercing confessions, orchestrating the identification of questionable witnesses and other nasty tactics. He denies any wrongdoing.

Prosecutors said in their report on the Ruffin case that they “could not find any illegal activity by Scarcella” in the case. A message seeking comment was sent to his attorney.

Prosecutors said the investigation by police and authorities at the time was “wholly inadequate” and tunnel-visioned, failing to investigate the person now believed to be the shooter.

The mistaken shooting occurred while Ruffin and his friends were searching for a robber who had just taken an earring from Ruffin's sister. In fact, Deligny was not a robber, authorities say.

Tipsters led police to track down Ruffin, then a 17-year-old high school student, and the victim's sister identified him in a lineup that a court later found flawed. Scarcella was not involved in the lineup, but he and another detective questioned Ruffin.

According to police records cited in the prosecutor's report, the boy twice said he saw Deligny's shooting but was not involved.

Scarcella then brought the teen's estranged father, himself a police officer, to the station. His father later testified that he told his son to “tell the truth,” but Ruffin said his father asked his son to confess.

He then confessed and said he fired him because he thought Deligny had tried to take something out of his jacket. Ruffin told detectives he could get the gun back from his sister's boyfriend, and he did, according to the prosecutor's report.

Ruffin immediately recanted his confession to his father, but the father did not tell detectives that his son had recanted his confession, according to the prosecutor's report. The boy continued to testify at trial that he did not shoot Deligny, but that he knew the gunman and that he knew him. Her sister's boyfriend, who had given the gun to the police, was found dismembered and stuffed into a potato.

Jurors in Ruffin's trial heard from her boyfriend, but only about his relationship with the defendant, his sister and others involved in the case. When the jury left the room, the boyfriend invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to answer other questions, including where he had been the night of the shooting.

Prosecutors did not release the boyfriend's name Thursday, and the name of the attorney who represented him was not immediately available. During his most recent reinvestigation, he told prosecutors that he had nothing to do with the shooting and did not give detectives a gun. He also said he never confessed to anyone, but prosecutors say Ruffin's stepfather, sister and late mother all said they did.

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Asked about his girlfriend Thursday, Ruffin's attorney said the prospects for prosecution are unclear at this time.

“I wish Detective Scarcella and his colleagues had done the investigation they should have done in 1996 and gotten it right the first time,” said attorney Garrett Ordauer, adding that Deligny's family now hopes to secure a guilty verdict. He pointed out that it may not be possible. his death.

As for Ruffin, he's focused on his future, including opportunities for advancement at his job in Atlanta. His conviction, now vacated, “in no way defined me,” he said.

“This never spoke about the kind of person I was or the kind of person I would become,” he said. “For me, this is a great closure to a chapter in my life, but my life still goes on.”

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