Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz announced Tuesday, Oct. 19, that her office’s Conviction Review Unit overturned its 10th wrongful conviction since she took over the office in 2020.
Katz and defense counsel at the law firm Covington & Burling LLP filed a joint motion to vacate the 1995 conviction of Lawrence Scott based on evidence of improper discrimination by a rogue assistant district attorney during jury selection.
A jury found Scott guilty of robbery at a 1995 trial, but Queens Supreme Court Justice Michelle Johnson vacated the robbery conviction and dismissed the indictment at the DA’s request.
Documents found in the Queens district attorney’s files in Scott’s case demonstrated that a single ADA, Christopher McGrath, who resigned in 1997, improperly excluded certain minorities and women from jury service in violation of the 1986 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Batson v. Kentucky.
In 2020, the Conviction Integrity Unit was made aware of a set of notes utilized by McGrath when exercising peremptory strikes, which contained discriminatory guidance. This discovery led Katz to vacate the convictions of two individuals, one for double murder and another for the shooting of a police officer, whose trials were deemed unconstitutional based on the prosecutor’s improper use of race in jury selection.
The CIU then commenced a review of all jury trials conducted by McGrath that uncovered the same discriminatory conduct in Lawrence Scott’s 1995 trial.
“Late last year, we discovered two 1996 convictions had been tainted by evidence of discrimination in jury selection,” Katz said Tuesday. “At that time, we made a commitment to review other cases and take appropriate action. Today’s motion to vacate this defendant’s conviction reaffirms my administration’s determination to reject any form of discrimination.”
Scott had long completed his sentence for the 1995 robbery conviction and is presently incarcerated on a different robbery conviction and counsel has been appointed to assess the impact of the reversal of this prior conviction on his current sentence, according to the Queens district attorney’s office.