By WESTON LOVING
A Queens man, previously found guilty of murder and robbery, walked out of the Queens County Courthouse Thursday, exonerated of his crimes after 25 years in prison.
A joint motion presented by both the Queens DA’s Office and the Innocence Project, representing Jaythan Kendrick, to Judge Joseph A. Zayas to vacate the conviction and seal any record of Kendrick’s conviction. Zayas beamed from the outset of the hearing and said to Kendrick, “[if it were not for the masks] You would see us all smiling because of what is about to happen today.”
Kendrick was convicted in the 1994 murder and robbery of 72-year-old Josephine Sanchez that occurred outside of the Ravenswood Housing Project in Queens. On the night of the murder he was stopped by police because he matched the description of the suspect. Police interrogated Kendrick for two days and used what Kendrick’s lawyer, Susan Friedman, described as “guilt presumptive interrogation tactics”.
Most of the evidence used against Kendrick in his first trial was found to be unrelated to the case or a result of prosecutorial misconduct, later probes showed. The star witness for the prosecution was Brandon Rogers, who was 10 years old at the time of the incident. The child was asked to pick the person he had seen commit the crimes from a lineup containing Kendrick as well as fill-ins, people who had no relation to the crime but looked similar to the suspect. Originally, later investigators said, Rogers picked a fill-in, before police told him he had picked the wrong person and asked him to pick again. Rogers has since recanted his testimony and told lawyers from the Innocence Project that he had never even seen the face of the man who committed the crime.
The other evidence included the presence of a purse matching the description of the one that was taken from Sanchez at the crime scene in Kendrick’s apartment. Before Thursday’s proceedings, a test on the purse found no DNA from the victim, all but guaranteeing that it was never in Sanchez’s possession. Moreover, fingernail clippings taken from the victim found male DNA that excluded Kendrick from the suspect pool.
Queens DA Melinda Katz played an instrumental role in vacating Mr. Kendrick’s conviction. Prior DA administrations had intimidated witnesses from speaking to Mr. Kendrick’s legal team and were generally uncooperative with his attorneys. Katz created the Conviction Integrity Unit to take on cases such and her cooperation with the defense did not go unnoticed. Both Judge Zayas and Kendrick thanked her for her part,
““I really wanna thank you because you kept your word, this day is possible due to you,” said the former defendant, whose demeanor had been calm throughout the proceedings. “I just knew one thing for the last 25 years; I didn’t commit this crime.”
Before granting the motion to vacate the conviction, the judge announced that no contempt charges would be handed down for any cheering or clapping from the audience in the courtroom. Applause erupted.
Then the man in the black robe said the words Kendrick had been waiting a quarter of a century to hear, “I hereby vacate your convictions, the motion is granted.”