Man retried in ’95 killing gets prison, can seek parole now
NEW YORK (AP) — A New York man has been resentenced to prison — at least for now — after going free amid questions about a prominent detective’s conduct, then getting convicted again of the same murder at a recent retrial.
Eliseo DeLeon was sentenced Thursday to 20 years to life for the 1995 killing of Fausto Cordero — but DeLeon is immediately eligible to seek parole. He already spent about 24 years behind bars before his conviction was overturned in 2019 and he was granted a new trial, held this summer. His lawyer, Cary London, is hopeful that a parole board will free DeLeon soon.
DeLeon maintains his innocence, and said Thursday he was grateful he’d had another chance to try to show it.
“I don’t want to go through this again,” he told Judge Dena Douglas before she sentenced him. DeLeon, 45, said he wants only to “go on with my life.”
Cordero was shot in front of his wife, 7-year-old son and niece during an attempted robbery while they headed home from a confirmation party in Brooklyn.
DeLeon’s lawyers say he was framed by former New York Police Department Detective Louis Scarcella and his then-partner, Stephen Chmil.
Convictions in nearly 20 cases involving Scarcella, and sometimes Chmil, have been tossed out in the past decade after they were accused of eliciting false confessions and witness identifications. The now-retired sleuths deny any wrongdoing.
Brooklyn prosecutors disavowed most of those convictions but stood by others. DeLeon’s case was the first to be retried.
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said Thursday his office is continuing to review convictions it considers questionable.
“We will move to dismiss wrongful convictions and continue to stand by those that are supported by independent evidence and due process protections,” he said in a statement.
Chmil was one of the lead detectives on DeLeon’s case, but prosecutors and his lawyers differ on the extent of Scarcella’s involvement, and he testified this summer that he doesn’t remember the case.
Police records show that Scarcella — then a celebrated ace among Brooklyn’s homicide detectives — participated at least in arresting DeLeon, bringing him to a stationhouse, and reading him his rights before he was questioned. Scarcella said he believes he didn’t take part in the interrogation.
Police said DeLeon confessed. But when authorities tried to get the alleged admission on video, he asked for a lawyer. The video, which was barred from his initial trial, shows DeLeon saying said he’s willing to talk but won’t “put myself on tape and say I did something I didn’t do.”
At the retrial this summer, DeLeon’s lawyers said police concocted the alleged confession and conducted dodgy identification procedures in which eyewitnesses — inaccurately, the defense claimed — pointed to DeLeon as the gunman.
Prosecutors stressed that DeLeon’s wife and another eyewitness returned to court and stood by those identifications from 27 years earlier. Prosecutors also said the investigation wasn’t propelled by Scarcella and Chmil, who didn’t testify at DeLeon’s original trial or the preceding hearings.
Douglas, who overturned DeLeon’s conviction and granted him the new trial, ultimately convicted him anew last month. DeLeon chose not to have a jury at his retrial.
DeLeon’s lawyer called the sentence fair, and the district attorney said “justice was again done in this case.”
DeLeon had been free since 2019. His lawyer said DeLeon used the time to complete a college program for medical and dental assistants, work in food delivery, and set a wedding date next summer with his fiancee.
When taken into custody after his new conviction, DeLeon had a medical episode that landed him in a hospital overnight, his lawyer said.
By JENNIFER PELTZ