Police Detective Used Same Language in Multiple Suspect Confessions

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As the Brooklyn homicide detective Louis Scarcella told it, the suspect in a ruthless home invasion that left one man dead and two more people in a coma started talking after just a few minutes of questioning.

“You got it right,” the suspect, Jabbar Washington, said. “I was there.”

The phrase was straightforward and damning, introducing the central piece of evidence that sent him to prison for 25 years to life. At the 1997 trial, Mr. Scarcella told the jury that it was the easiest confession he had obtained in more than two decades working for the Police Department.

But if the interrogation was unique for him, the wording was not. In at least four more murder cases, suspects questioned by Mr. Scarcella began their confessions with either “you got it right” or “I was there.”

Mr. Scarcella, 61, was a member of the Brooklyn North Homicide squad who developed a reputation for eliciting confessions when no other detective could. But questions about his credibility have led the Brooklyn district attorney’s office to reopen all of his trial convictions.

The similarity of the confessions, which was discovered in a review of cases by The New York Times, raises new doubts about the statements that Mr. Scarcella presented and that the prosecutors used to win convictions in dozens of murder cases. One of the men, David Ranta, who had spent more than two decades arguing that he never made the confession attributed to him that began “I was there,” has already been released from prison.

Defense lawyers fighting the convictions say the resemblance of statements attributed to inmates who shared nothing in common makes it more likely that Mr. Scarcella fabricated evidence, laying the groundwork for cases to be dismissed and millions to be paid in wrongful conviction lawsuits.

“It’s sort of beyond belief that it would be coincidental,” said Steven Banks, chief lawyer for the Legal Aid Society, which is reviewing 20 cases handled by Mr. Scarcella.

A confession by Jabbar Washington in his 1997 murder trial uses phrases found in other confessions recorded by Mr. Scarcella.

Mr. Scarcella, a 26-year veteran who retired in 1999, stood by his record, saying he was one of the best detectives in the department. As for the similarities, he said: “I honestly don’t know what you’re talking about. I will say this again: I have never fabricated a confession in my life.”

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