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Probe gets three murder convictions tossed out in Brooklyn

By Bernard Vaughan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Three murder convictions from the 1980s that involved a retired police detective who has come under scrutiny were thrown out in Brooklyn Supreme Court on Tuesday at the request of the district attorney's office.

The crowd in the small courtroom erupted in cheers as Acting Supreme Court Justice Neil Firetog dismissed indictments against half-brothers Darryl Austin, Alveana Jeannette and Robert Hill.

The three convictions are the first to be overturned among more than 50 cases involving former detective Louis Scarcella that the Brooklyn District Attorney's office is reviewing, according to attorney Harold Ferguson who represented Hill.

Austin and Jeannette were convicted in the 1985 robbery and shooting death of Ronnie Durante and sentenced to 18 years to life in prison.

Hill was convicted for the 1987 shooting death of Donald Manboardes and also sentenced to 18 years to life.

Hill, 53, who served 27 years in prison, was the only one of the three released by Tuesday's order.

Jeannette, who was in court, was freed on parole in 2007 after 20 years in prison. Austin died in prison at age 37 after serving 14 years.

Hill, who has multiple sclerosis, walked with a cane into his family's embrace after the hearing finished.

Asked what he wanted to do as a free man, he replied: "I'm gonna take a bath."

Alan Abramson, Scarcella's attorney, said Scarcella "was a proud member of a large team that investigated each of these cases. As in all homicide cases, each of his arrests were authorized by a senior prosecutor in the district attorney's office homicide bureau."

The Brooklyn district attorney took another look at every murder conviction in cases involving Scarcella, 61, a lead investigator who was linked to "troubling aspects" of one case that was recently overturned, a spokesman had previously said.

The district attorney's conviction review unit concluded that a now-deceased key witness in the Austin and Jeannette cases, Teresa Gomez, was unreliable and likely deprived the men of fair trials, Assistant District Attorney Mark Hale told the judge.

Hale said prosecutors had Gomez testify in six homicide cases.

"We have made the determination that she was certainly a troubled young person, hopelessly addicted to drugs," Hale said.

Hale also said the investigation uncovered notes in a police file that implicated another suspect in the Austin and Jeannette case that were never turned over to defense attorneys.

"Everything is over with," Jeannette said afterward. "I never stopped believing."

(Reporting by Bernard Vaughan; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst, Bernard Orr)

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