A New York man with special needs who was wrongfully convicted of murder walked free after spending 25 years in prison in what officials called a “systemic failure.”
“I told y’all I didn’t do this!” Andrew Hatchett, 49, told reporters as he walked out of Brooklyn Supreme Court a free man on Thursday.
“I’m so happy to be free again,” he said. “I lost my son, my mom and my dad while in there. I’m home again.”
Hatchett was convicted of the 1991 killing of Neda Mae Carter, 38, whose naked and beaten body was found in Monroe Street Park in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Andre Hatchett, wrongfully convicted, was exonerated this afternoon. Here he is leaving court this afternoon. pic.twitter.com/AGOK7NPWSW— C.C. Woodby (@ChristinaWoodby) March 10, 2016
He had been with Carter earlier that day and cooperated with investigators, providing an alibi and voluntarily going to the precinct numerous times, the Innocence Project, which took up Hatchett’s case, said in a statement.
Hatchett, then 24, was also recovering from several gunshot wounds to his throat and leg, which was in a cast. He was on crutches on the night of the murder.
“Neither attorney presented Hatchett’s medical records which show that it would have been virtually impossible for Hatchett to have committed this crime given his physical limitations,” the Innocence Project wrote.
But based on eyewitness testimony of career criminal Gerard “Jerry” Williams, who implicated Hatchett for the murder after he was arrested for an unrelated burglary, Hatchett was convicted and sentenced to 25 years to life.
The Innocence Project’s review found that Williams initially identified a different man as Carter’s murderer, which was never disclosed to Hatchett’s attorneys at the time.
"In addition, there is also new evidence that the informant likely received an undisclosed deal for his testimony," the Innocence Project wrote.
“This was a systemic failure, by every institution he encountered,” said assistant district attorney Mark Hale after Hatchett’s release.
After his charges were reversed, Hatchett was all smiles as he and his family walked to have their first meal together outside of prison in more than two decades.
The group gathered together at Dallas BBQ, where Hatchett had a steak.
He rejoiced with loved ones that they were reunited, hugging family members and keeping them close throughout the day.
Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, joined in on the celebrations. He and Hatchett posed for photos at the restaurant and gladly gave thumbs up to the camera.
Hatchett’s release is the 19th wrongfully-convicted prisoner freed by the Brooklyn District Attorney Office’s Conviction Review Unit.
“We are incredibly grateful to District Attorney Ken Thompson and his conviction integrity unit, without which Mr. Hatchett may never have received justice,” Scheck said in a statement.
“This was a cooperative, non-adversarial search for the truth that should be a model for all who do this work,” he continued. “We had an information sharing agreement that allowed us access to all police records and the district attorney’s file. There was a constant exchange of ideas and suggestions for investigation. Without this cooperation and open disclosure, we would have never discovered the many missteps that revealed Mr. Hatchett’s innocence.”
Pro bono lawyers at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP assisted in the Innocence Project’s investigation.