Hamilton is one of 15 men who were convicted and exonerated on unrelated charges due to a principal investigator fabricating evidence against them.
After spending twenty-three years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Derrick Hamilton has won a total of $7 million from the cities of New York, NY, and New Haven, CT.
According to The New York Times, Hamilton’s journey was a harrowing one. Some twenty years after being approached by police, Hamilton told the Times, he reached rock-bottom: locked in isolation, accused and convicted of murder. For two decades, he maintained his innocence.
In jail, Hamilton did what he could to make the most of his situation. He researched law, often helping other inmates appeal their sentences and convictions.
Some twenty-three years after sentenced himself, Hamilton convinced prosecutors to reconsider and ultimately vacate his own conviction. The Times says Hamilton’s innocence was established after a key eyewitness agreed to recant their testimony.
While Hamilton’s continued to advocate on behalf of prisoners and the wrongfully accused, he’s been fighting another battle on the side, too: a lawsuit against city officials in New York and New Haven. In his complaint, Hamilton accused three police officers of fabricating evidence against him.
As the New York Times reports, one of the three officers implicated in Hamilton’s suit is Louis Scarcella.
Scarcella is among the New York Police Department’s most controversial detectives. Building a reputation for securing convictions in the 1980s and 1990s, many of Scarcella’s investigations have since fallen apart, revealed to have been built atop lies and deceit. In the past year alone, more than 14 men—many of whom were serving hard time—had their sentences overturned or vacated due to Scarcella’s initial involvement in their cases.
However, Scarcella has refused to admit wrongdoing—he was even scheduled to speak in court on the same day Hamilton’s lawsuit was meant to move to trial.
One way or another, Hamilton says the money’s beside the point.
“It’ll help my family out financially,” he said. “It doesn’t settle what I went through.”
“Everyone’s life went on for 20 years,” Hamilton added. “Mine stopped.”
And, by large, it was Scarcella who stopped it. According to the Times, Hamilton was arrested in 1991—then aged only 28—while living in New Haven. Scarcella arrived outside Hamilton’s house with local police in tow, accusing him of murdering a Brooklyn man.
The only eyewitness in the case against Hamilton was the victim’s former girlfriend, whose story was anything but consistent.
Despite taking his appeals up the State Supreme Court, Hamilton was convicted by a jury. He spent the next 23 years being shuffled between prisons. Much of his time behind bars, implies the Times, was spent in solitary confinement.
Since the settlement, Hamilton has kept up with similar cases. On Tuesday, he sat in court while a Brooklyn judge overturned the conviction of Eliseo Deleon—the 15th exoneration linked to Scarcella.
Hamilton, says the Times, wanted to show solidarity.
“I know what it’s like to come home and have nothing—that’s why I’m going,” he said. “The guy who’s coming home, he needs to know he’s got a friend.”