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DA vacates conviction of man who served 19 years, 30th such judgement overturned since 2014

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Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez on Wednesday vacated the conviction of a man who served nearly 19 years in prison for allegedly shooting at police officers.

Kadafi Ala, 42, had his conviction vacated after the DA’s Conviction Review Unit (CRU) determined there were inconsistencies between the physical evidence and the testimony of police officers. Ala appeared before Justice Matthew D’Emic at Brooklyn Supreme Court Wednesday morning, where Gonzalez asked that his conviction be vacated.

Ala’s vacated conviction is the 30th such overturning by the Brooklyn DA’s office since the CRU was established in 2014. The CRU was established under Gonzalez’s late predecessor Ken Thompson, and has focused much attention on cases with spotty police testimony.

“A reinvestigation of this case showed how confirmation bias can lead to a wrongful conviction,” Gonzalez said in statement. “Despite witness testimony that contradicted the ballistic evidence, this crime was presented to a jury as a ‘simple case’ and a man unjustly spent nearly two decades in prison. We are moving to vacate this conviction because our review of all the available evidence, including an expert’s reexamination of the ballistics, has demonstrated that the defendant could not have committed the shooting as described at trial. This exoneration is yet another example of my CRU’s continued commitment to correct miscarriages of justice without any fear or favor.”

Ala was convicted in February 2001 in relation to an incident that occurred in Crown Heights just after the new millennium on January 1, 2000. Cops said they saw a 16-year-old teenager shooting a revolver into the air, to which they returned fire, before seeing Ala shoot at them from the building’s right-hand courtyard. The shots all missed, and Ala was arrested.

The officers said that Ala made inculpatory statements to them, and that they had recovered a gun from a nearby courtyard. The defense said that no one had returned fire at the officers, but rather that people had been shooting into the air while watching fireworks, and that Ala did not possess a gun. Almeda was convicted of attempted aggravated assault and sentenced to 21 years in prison, though he was acquitted on attempted murder charges. He was paroled in December 2018.

After reinvestigating, the CRU reports that the “ballistic evidence” in the case is more consistent with the defense testimony than that of the officers. For instance, cops and prosecutors at the time cited nine shell casings found on the sidewalk as evidence against Ala; the CRU notes that for the shell casings’ location to be consistent with the location cops alleged Ala shot from, the bullets would have to travel through “shrubbery, a chain-link fence, and over a two-foot high brick wall.”

Cops also said they recovered the gun they claimed Ala used from a courtyard on the left side of the building, despite having said that Ala shot at them from the right-side courtyard and was arrested immediately afterwards; the DA’s office says there isn’t a plausible explanation as to how the gun could have ended up on the other side of the building in that scenario.

They also said that his confession was “not accurately described to the jury.” No forensic evidence was presented linking the gun to Ala, the DA says, but the trial jury largely didn’t question the cops’ testimony.

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