A Brooklyn man who spent two decades in prison for a shooting he did not commit was found guilty by a judge last week.
“I don’t believe in a few days, a few minutes,” said Eric DeBerry, 44. “It’s surreal.”
He received a call from his lawyer last Monday at the Mohawk Correctional Facility, with news that he was going home 20 years later. An hour later, a correctional officer took him into the van on the way to the train station.
“I asked [the officer]”What line do you want me to sit in?” “He said, ‘You can sit wherever you want, you are no longer in jail. ‘ “
When he reached Penn Station, he met his wife, Yvonne, whom he had not seen in three years.
“I wanted to be cool,” he recalls. “I tried to hold it. I tried not to cry but it was impossible. My wife was there the whole time.”
The judge overturned DeBerry’s conviction for the 1999 Brooklyn shootings after the victim and key witness Kareem Collins returned to him at trial. The original shooter Roberto Velasquez also admitted.
DeBerry’s lawyers from White & Case were heading upstairs to meet him in jail, but he was suddenly released, and they met him at the Poughkeepsie train station.
They carry a bag of McDonald’s takeout, DeBerry’s wife tells lawyers that it is her favorite food.
Lawyer Sam Hershey and his team, who took the case pro bono, handed out a bag of luggage to the train, holding the order of two large fries and double quarter pounders.
“It’s not McDonald’s 21 years old,” DeBerry said. “It [the meal] Heaven. “
But the joy of reuniting with DeBerry and his wife and family has not been able to overcome the challenges of returning to a life not seen through the steel bars.
He and his wife have a 21-year-old daughter, who is in college. She was only 3 years old when DeBerry went to prison, and he missed all the milestones of her youth.
The neighborhood he grew up in, Crown Heights, turned out to be so dramatic in his absence that he didn’t even notice the streets of his childhood, now filled with luxurious rental buildings and upscale stores.
“It’s my hood. I was born here, ”he said. “It hurt me a little bit.”
Finding the innocence that DeBerry has been fighting for over two decades, 15 months of his release date was a shame. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison for assault, burglary and possession of a weapon, but less on good behavior.
“My life has been very bitter,” he said. “I trusted the system. I knew I wouldn’t go to jail for this, and it failed me.”
He said, “How hard it is to reach out and you don’t believe anyone is listening to you.”
Eventually, someone heard him. His family contacted White & Case and Hershey agreed to fight for his deportation. “He’s trusting my story. I can’t ask for more, ”he said.
In the company’s investigation, the victim, Collins, gave an affidavit affirming that he lied on the stand when DeBerry was identified as a shooter.
Collins said he tried to rob Velస్zquez, who shot him. Collin’s version of the incident matched the testimony of Velasquez in 2003, when DeBerry admitted that he was a shooter as part of a failed attempt at freedom.
But this time it was different. After a two-day trial, Justice Lawrence Nippel ruled on June 16 that DeBerry had “established his innocence with clear and convincing evidence” over the objection of the Brooklyn DA’s office.
“There is very little hope at times,” DeBerry said. “I’ve always said, the system won’t let me break it down.”
After spending decades looking back, DeBerry turned his attention to the future. He said his most important goal is to ensure his daughter graduates college. On top of that, he has a modest bucket list.
“I want to travel, I want to pick an apple, I want to do the little things I never did,” he said. “I like to sit, watch the sun rise and watch the sun rise.”
A Brooklyn DA office spokeswoman said they are reviewing the case to determine if the witness was guilty.