Murder case dropped against man imprisoned for 22 years

2018-03-22 13:46
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New York - A man who spent 22 years in prison for a double killing was cleared of the charges on Wednesday, when prosecutors dropped a case that new witnesses threw into question.

The decision came after a judge had already overturned Calvin Buari's conviction and freed him in May. Newfound witnesses said Buari wasn't the man who shot two men in a parked car on a Bronx corner in 1992.

The Bronx district attorney's office initially pledged to appeal and retry the case if necessary, so Buari had remained under indictment until prosecutors abandoned the case on Wednesday, saying they couldn't prove it.

"That was the best news I could ever hear," Buari, 47, said by phone. "I can finally now put that behind me. ... Now I can just move forward with my life."

His life is about to get more attention, with a podcast about his case scheduled for release March 28.

Elijah and Salhaddin Harris, who were brothers, were shot to death as they ate a takeout dinner in their car September 10, 1992.

Buari was a crack cocaine distributor in the area; he has said he was "very immature" at the time. Authorities blamed him for a spasm of bloodshed there, with then-DA Robert Johnson saying residents "had every reason to fear for their safety as long as he was free".

Buari, who denied involvement in the Harris' deaths and says he was framed because of drug-world rivalries, was convicted in 1995. He was sentenced to 50 years to life in prison.

After Buari's lawyers and family publicised his exoneration effort in recent years, new witnesses came forward. Two told a court last year they saw another man commit the shooting. A third said Buari was chatting with her down the block when the gunfire rang out.

"Each of these witnesses testified with sincerity, and remorse, at what they perceived to be a miscarriage of justice," Bronx state Supreme Court Justice Eugene Oliver wrote in overturning Buari's conviction last year and ordering a new trial.

Also, prosecutors' key witness later confessed to the crime himself, then recanted, then recently said Buari wasn't the gunman.

That witness has never been charged in the Harris brothers' deaths but would be fair game for Buari to discuss at a retrial, the judge wrote.

DA spokesperson Patrice O'Shaughnessy said prosecutors ultimately determined they would be "unable to meet our burden of proof at trial".

Buari's lawyer, Oscar Michelen, called the decision "long, long overdue".

The podcast, "Empire on Blood", follows the case through the lens of journalist Steve Fishman, known for his interviews with imprisoned fraudster Bernard Madoff.

Since his release, Buari has started a business transporting inmates' relatives to prison for visits. He also has been working with an auto detailing shop and aims to open a restaurant, he said.

"I've just been focusing on putting my best foot forward," he said.

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