New district attorney could free man convicted in controversial murder case

New district attorney could free man convicted in controversial murder case

A Bushwick man jailed for murder 29 years ago in a dubious conviction is hoping the new district attorney will take another look at his case.

Attorneys for David McCallum, who confessed in 1985 — allegedly under duress — to the kidnapping and murder of a Queens man, are lobbying new top borough lawman Ken Thompson to re-investigate the case.

The lawyers argue that neither the DNA nor the handprints found at the scene of the crime match McCallum or his convicted co-conspirator Willie Stuckey, and that the pair’s convictions rested almost entirely on their confessions — which were not consistent with each other or the forensic evidence, and which they both immediately recanted.

“At no time then or since has a single piece of forensic evidence — or evidence of any kind — ever tied McCallum or Stuckey to the crime,” wrote Oscar Michelen, who has represented McCallum pro-bono for the past nine years, in a letter to Thompson on Jan. 22.

McCallum and Stuckey — who died in prison in 2001 — were just 16 when they were arrested and charged with holding up 20–year–old Ozone Park resident Nathan Blenner, forcing him into his Buick, driving to Aberdeen Park on Bushwick Avenue, and then shooting Blenner in the head and torching the car nearby.

Two young men police picked up in connection with the crime fingered Stuckey and McCallum as the culprits, and the Bushwick pair accused each other while in custody, but then recanted their stories.

McCallum and Stuckey rejected a deal and pled not guilty — a losing gamble for the pair, who both received sentences of 25 years to life.

Michelen argues that the two convicts’ stories don’t match. Besides Stuckey and McCallum each putting the never-recovered murder weapon in the other’s hand, they gave differing details of their encounter with Blenner leading up to the kidnapping. Also, Stuckey said McCallum shot Blenner three times, while McCallum claimed Stuckey shot Blenner once.

The only matching detail in the two accounts, according to Michelen, was that both said the killing occurred at night — but the medical examiner determined Blenner was killed in the mid-afternoon.

The initial 1985 investigation found palm prints on the vehicle and on the kerosene can used to set the Buick ablaze, as well as several fingerprints on objects inside the car — but none matched Stuckey or McCallum.

Michelen convinced former District attorney Charles Hynes — the successor to Elizabeth Holtzman, who sent the pair to jail — to put the case before his Convictions Integrity Unit in 2011.

The unit used new DNA technology to analyze saliva samples from cigarette butts and a marijuana roach found in the vehicle. They discovered the DNA on the smokes matched another man with a criminal record, who couldn’t account for how his cigarette butts ended up in Blenner’s car. But Hynes’s office decided that was not enough to exonerate McCallum, pointing out that both he and Stuckey confessed to the crime after interrogations of less than an hour — while studies show 85 percent of false confessions come after at least six hours of grilling.

McCallum’s decision to maintain his innocence has cost him, as he has been repeatedly turned down for parole for failing to express regret.

McCallum’s case has attracted some star power. Michelen took up the convict’s cause at the personal request of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the boxer wrongly convicted in 1966 of a triple homicide, only to have his conviction overturned in 1985, following widespread public outcry and a Bob Dylan song.

Also, Brooklyn attorney John O’Hara — whom Hynes indicted in 1996 on the obscure felony charge of voting in the incorrect location after O’Hara worked on the campaigns of candidates Hynes opposed — has joined McCallum’s legal team pro-bono. O’Hara said McCallum’s situation was a key reason why he worked to see Thompson elected District Attorney last year.

“Throughout the DA’s race, David McCallum was a constant reminder of what was at stake. If Hynes got re-elected, David McCallum, wrongfully convicted almost 30 years ago, would eventually die in prison,” O’Hara said.

Thompson’s office declined to comment on whether it would review McCallum’s case.

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow him at twitter.com/WillBredderman.
Exonerator: Oscar Michelen, the pro-bono attorney for David McCallum, has asked new District Attorney Ken Thompson to review the Bushwick man’s conviction for murder 29 years ago based entirely on a recanted confession.
AP / Frank Franklin