Councilman Shekar Krishnan rallied with supporters of Prakash Churaman in front of Queens County Criminal Court in Kew Gardens Tuesday, May 10, calling on Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz to drop the murder charges against the Guyanese immigrant who will soon be on trial for a second time.
In 2014, Churaman was 15 years old when he was arrested and charged with the murder of his friend Taquane Clark during a botched home invasion in south Jamaica. Members of the Free Prakash Alliance say the NYPD coerced him into a false confession and no DNA or forensic evidence linked Churaman to the crime scene, and the case rests solely upon the unreliable “ear witness” of Clark’s then-74-year-old grandmother.
Churaman was incarcerated for six years, four of those in pre-trial detention on Rikers Island before his trial, refusing every plea deal from the prosecution. The Appellate Division overturned Churaman’s original conviction in June 2020 and he is awaiting his retrial.
“Prakash is an example of a system that has failed,” Krishnan said. “How many times do we have to be here on these steps? How many times do we need to be here demanding that this DA’s office, the NYPD and the court system understand that this is not only a case of wrongful prosecution, it is a case of corrupt prosecution.”
Protesters spoke of the recent report from Hell Gate news that the DA’s office did not disclose to Churaman’s defense lawyer that two lead detectives in his murder investigation allegedly hid evidence in another case — keeping two men on Rikers for more than a year and costing the city $2 million in a settlement.
“The charges in this case must be dropped,” Krishnan said. “This young brother of color has spent seven years locked up on Rikers Island. He is a new father and is staring down a prosecution built entirely on false evidence, coercion and built on the corruption, the corruption of a system that shows itself over and over again.”
QNS reached out to the Queens DA’s office and is awaiting a response.
Queens Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Holder, who will preside over Churaman’s retrial, ordered a special hearing Tuesday after the Hell Gate article was published.
Churaman was on his way into that hearing when he passed the Free Prakash Alliance rally.
“I’m confident. I feel optimistic,” Churaman said. “The truth is the truth. You can’t really modify it. You can’t change the truth. You can’t change that. That’s something that’s set in stone. Now it’s up to you to accept that.”
Felicia Singh, the Ozone Park educator who came up short in a contentious campaign as the Democratic nominee for the 32nd Council District in South Queens, first heard about Churaman when he was on Rikers Island and they spoke by phone.
“It broke my heart to hear his voice, to hear his advocacy, to hear his fight and the fight he’s been doing alone for a long, long time,” Singh said during the rally. “I’m so proud to see so many South Asian brothers and sisters, so many South Asian siblings and our Black siblings with us today in solidarity, but let me tell you this to our Indo-Caribbeans and South Asians who aren’t here today: You need to wake up and stop showing up to DA Katz’s events. Stop feeding her money and support and allyship when she betrays our community every single day by not dropping the charges.”
Sherry Padilla of the Free Prakash Alliance called the DA a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
“Prakash has his son, his partner, his mother. He just wants a chance to live and live freely without having to come to court for the 97th, 98th, 99th time,” she said. “We just want it to end. We want Prakash home. We want Prakash to stop going through this.”
Additional reporting by Paul Frangipane.