A New York man will return to prison – for now – after being released amid questions about the conduct of a prominent detective, then being convicted of murder again in a recent retrial.
Eliseo DeLeon was sentenced Thursday to 20 years to live for the murder of Fausto Cordero in 1995. DeLeon spent 24 years behind bars before his sentence was overturned in 2019, so he can now apply for probation immediately.
Cordero was shot in front of his wife, 7-year-old son and granddaughter during a robbery attempt on their way home from a confirmation party in Brooklyn.
DeLeon, 45, claims her innocence. His lawyers say he was framed by former NYPD detective Louis Scarcella and Scarcella’s then partner Stephen Chmil.
The convictions in nearly 20 cases involving Scarcella, and sometimes Chmil, have been dismissed in the last decade after being accused of eliciting false confessions and identification of witnesses. The now retired investigators deny any wrongdoing.
Brooklyn prosecutors disavowed most of those convictions but supported others. DeLeon’s case was the first to be tried again.
Chmil was one of the principal investigators on DeLeon’s case, but prosecutors and his lawyers disagree over the extent of Scarcella’s involvement and this summer he testified that he did not remember the case.
Police records show that Scarcella – then a celebrated ace among Brooklyn homicide investigators – at least participated in DeLeon’s arrest, taking him to a police station and reading his rights before he was questioned. Scarcella said he believed he did not take part in the interrogation.
Police said DeLeon confessed. But when the authorities tried to get the alleged admission on video, she asked for a lawyer. The video, which was left out of his initial trial, shows DeLeon saying he is willing to talk but that he won’t “put me on the tape and say I did something I didn’t do.”
At the retrial this summer, DeLeon’s lawyers said police made up the alleged confession and conducted ambiguous identification procedures in which eyewitnesses – inaccurately, the defense said – pointed to DeLeon as the gunman. .
Prosecutors pointed out that DeLeon’s wife and another eyewitness returned to court and maintained those identifications from 27 years ago. Prosecutors also said the investigation was not initiated by Scarcella and Chmil, who did not testify at DeLeon’s original trial or earlier hearings.
Judge Dena Douglas, who overturned DeLeon’s conviction and granted him a retrial, finally sentenced him again last month. DeLeon chose not to have a jury at his retrial.
He was free since 2019 but was taken to a city jail after his new sentence.