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‘It Doesn’t Make Sense to Me’: New York Man Set Free After 23 Years In Prison Following Court’s Discovery That Eyewitness Had Severe Sight Problems

A Brooklyn man, who has spent the last 23 years behind bars, is now free after a judge ruled the sole eyewitness in his murder case lied about his sight issues.

Kareem Mayo, 48, is home in Brooklyn from Rikers under GPS monitoring while Brooklyn’s District Attorney as Eric Gonzalez decides whether to appeal the judge’s decision to dismiss the charges or retry the case.

On Monday, Jan. 23, the Supreme Court of the State of New York vacated the convictions of Mayo, 48, and his co-defendant Donnell Perkins, 40, in the 1999 Christmas death of Reuben Scrubb, according to court documents obtained by Atlanta Black Star.

Formerly incarcerated people, their families, and criminal justice reform activists hold a rally to demand that New York City shut down its jail, Rikers Island, November 17, 2022, in New York City, New York. (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

After the decision, several news outlets and elected officials called for Mayo’s immediate release. He had been held at Rikers Island awaiting release. State Sen. Kevin Parker asked the mayor to push for his release, ahead of the month that it typically takes to fit the monitor.

“Mayo should have been released immediately and not confined a minute longer, much less a week later,” Parker said in a statement. “It is unconscionable that a judge overturns a 23-year-old conviction, and the individual is forced to spend another night in prison, let alone on Rikers Island, waiting to be fitted for an ankle monitor.” 

“The only reason Mr. Mayo was released after ‘only’ a week in Rikers was the intervention of a judge, her law clerk, a state senator, and a story in THE CITY,” attorney Ron Kuby said. “People want bail reform? Reform that.”

“Defendants’ convictions rested largely upon the testimony of Brown, the only eyewitness to the underlying incident and the only individual to identify defendants. Neither a weapon nor any other evidence was recovered inculpating defendants for this crime,” wrote Judge Dena E. Douglas

The lawyers also mentioned Ernest Brown’s identity was never shared with the defendants’ former counsel, which never allowed them to challenge or investigate his testimony before the first trial.

On Apr. 16, 2001, the two men were charged and convicted of two counts of murder in the second degree and other weapon offenses related to the aforementioned crime.

Mayo was sentenced to 25 years to life in 2001. However, new evidence shows that the singular witness, Brown, was untruthful with his testimony, and did not disclose that his vision was possibly impaired during the evening he said he saw Mayo and Perkins, who was 17 years old at the time of his arrest, kill his friend.

The court filings state the defense called “into question his credibility, the veracity of his [Brown] testimony and, therefore, raise[d] a reasonably probability that the verdict would have been different if the trial jury was aware of the newfound evidence.”

The two men also dispute that they were even present at the scene of the crime on the night in question. Mayo said he was in Virginia visiting family for the holiday and Perkins claims “he was in his bedroom at the time his incident occurred.”

During the recent trial, Keeler Brown, Brown’s ex-wife, testified her former spouse needed “eyeglasses for additional purposes beyond reading,” adding, he “wore eyeglasses during daily activities such as watching television, playing video games, and cooking.” She also said he needed glasses to drive but did not use them “outside the home for reasons of vanity.”

During the hearing, the defense brought in multiple doctors who all agreed that his vision was impaired.

One doctor said, “she believed that there was a high likelihood of error in Brown’s identifications of defendants due to various factors such as his vision, fatigue, stress levels, and opportunity to observe the perpetrators.”

While Mayo was just released Monday, his co-defendant, Donnell Perkins, was released on parole in 2021.

“This case is another tragic artifact of the broken policing, prosecuting, and judging that so characterized New York City in the ’90s,” Kuby said. “After so many of these cases, I’d like to believe that the criminal legal system will do better. I hope the King County DA’s Office will speedily dismiss the charges against these two men, who have spent more than half their lives in prison, for a crime they did not commit.”

Perkins’ attorneys also spoke out, saying, “My client was 17 years old, a good kid with no criminal record, who served 22 years in prison for something he didn’t do.”

“I handled this case pro bono for seven years and my only regret is that the D.A.’s Conviction Review Unit wouldn’t acknowledge the injustice and forced us to file a motion, by which time Donnell had finished serving his sentence,” Rudin continued.

Gonzalez’s office, even after hearing the new evidence, continues to oppose the motion and, according to the city, is contemplating exhausting his options to retry the case to see if the new evidence would make a difference with a new jury. He is also considering dropping the case or appealing the decision to overturn the earlier conviction.

“We are reviewing the decision and weighing our options,” a representative from the Brooklyn DA’s office said in a statement.

Mayo was still incarcerated up until Parker stepped in.

“It doesn’t make sense to me,” Mayo said before his release, “They are still playing hardball. I got 23 years in. What more do they want?”

The court-ordered ankle monitor was one of the hold-ups. Getting the monitor is not the responsibility of the Brooklyn DA’s office and would have been installed by city sheriffs, which is a part of New York City’s Department of Finance. This is also the same department that administers boots on cars with outstanding tickets.

Kuby spoke about the notion that his client would have stayed incarcerated for another month.

“Like most things that are given to people by the city, it is adjacent to a system that is utterly broken, dysfunctional, indifferent, and uncaring,” Kuby said. Luckily, the senator stepped in.

Mayo is excited about being released, maintaining his innocence along the way despite missing out on many landmark moments in his life.

During the over two decades he was arrested, he lost both of his parents, and has missed nine of his grandchildren being born. The idea of his freedom is still overwhelming, and he hopes that everyone sees that with or without his ankle monitor, he has too much to lose by doing anything wrong.

“I wanted to jump up and kiss her,” Mayo said about the judge. “But they wouldn’t let me do it. I wanted to say thank you and plead my case to not get an ankle bracelet. I’ve got a newborn granddaughter. I’m not a flight risk or threat.”

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