May 6, 2020 By Allie Griffin
The Queens District Attorney’s office, which opened a unit to investigate potential wrongful convictions in January, announced yesterday that it has reopened 10 such cases.
Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz established the Conviction Integrity Unit when she took office on January 1 — making good on one of her earliest campaign promises.
Staff members are now actively re-investigating the 10 cases, Katz said. They are performing a ground-up reevaluation of each case, interviewing new witnesses and using cutting-edge DNA technology and forensic testing where possible.
The unit — headed by Bryce Benjet of the Innocence Project — will make recommendations for exoneration if someone is found to be wrongfully convicted.
In just four months, 46 cases have been submitted to the Conviction Integrity Unit, Katz said. Ten of those cases are the ones being re-investigated, while the others have been withdrawn from further consideration or have been referred to other jurisdictions or bureaus. Six have been closed — but the office hasn’t revealed the decision made in those cases.
“No one is perfect. No system is without flaws. And we know, without a doubt, that mistakes can happen, resulting in a miscarriage of justice,” District Attorney Katz said. “It is vitally important to have a Unit that is dedicated to reviewing credible cases and empowered to make recommendations on anyone who should be exonerated if found to be wrongfully convicted.”
Katz announced that she has recently appointed Senior Assistant District Attorney Alexis Celestin, a prosecutor last with the Westchester DA’s Office, to the team and that she will add more attorneys and investigators to the unit in the coming months.
“Our entire criminal justice system is built on the belief that one is innocent until proven guilty,” Katz said. “But if someone is wrongfully convicted that undermines the faith we all have in our criminal justice system.”