By The Greater Astoria Historical Society
Defense attorney Barry Scheck was a member of O.J. Simpson’s “dream team” of lawyers in his 1995 murder trial and is also a founder of The Innocence Project, which exonerates falsely accused criminals using DNA evidence.
In his more than 30 years of trial experience, he has served as counsel or consultant in numerous high-profile cases, ranging from Hedda Nussbaum, the Duke University lacrosse case and the JonBenet Ramsey murder investigation. The renowned attorney is also a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in Manhattan and has made numerous television appearances as a legal expert.
The 2010 film “Conviction” is based upon his efforts to vacate the conviction of Kenneth Waters, who was wrongfully imprisoned for a 1980 Massachusetts murder.
Scheck was born in Queens Sept. 19, 1949. After graduating from the Horace Mann School in the Bronx neighborhood of Riverdale, the future lawyer went on to Yale, where he became active in the protest movement against the Vietnam War. He advocated for abolition of all student draft deferments, believing the war would end only when enough middle-class parents saw their sons die in a far-off conflict.
After completing his undergraduate studies in 1971, he went on to earn a law degree at UC-Berkeley three years later.
After serving as a staff attorney with the Bronx Legal Aid Society early in his career, Scheck went on to establish a name for himself as a defense attorney and consultant in some notable cases. He was the focus of national attention for his work on the O.J. Simpson defense team, helping to earn the former Buffalo Bills star an acquittal with his animated questioning of LAPD criminologist Dennis Fung.
Repeatedly demanding, “Where is it, Mr. Fung?” his flailing arms and devastating cross-examination style rendered the term “to Scheck” a byword for witness bullying or self-righteous or melodramatic behavior in the legal lexicon.
Since the O.J. courtroom drama, the Queens native has continued to distinguish himself on a national level in noteworthy suits and criminal cases. In 1999, The Innocence Project helped clear Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson of wrongful murder convictions. Fritz had been sentenced to life and Williamson to death for their alleged roles in a 1982 Oklahoma murder.
He also proved the innocence of several men wrongfully imprisoned for 18 years for the 1985 murder of Theresa Fusco, a 16-year-old Long Island girl. More recently, Scheck represented former Duke University lacrosse player Reade Seligmann in a 2007 civil suit filed against the city of Durham, N.C., and the former district attorney Mike Nifong.
In addition to his trial work, Barry Scheck has taught law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in Brooklyn for more than 30 years. In addition to his teaching duties, the advocate also finds time to serve as a commissioner of the state Forensic Science Review Board and as an advisory board member to the Celera Genetic project to identify 9/11 World Trade Center victims.
It was back in 1992, however, that he first discovered, perhaps, his true calling when he and partner Peter Neufeld launched The Innocence Project after handling a case where prosecutors carelessly used DNA evidence against a suspect. Since then, the two law partners and their students have used genetic evidence to free more than 200 people convicted of heinous crimes including rape and murder. At least 12 of those freed were on death row.
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