Prosecutors’ Error Exposes Potential Scope of Disgraced Detective’s Harm

In court papers they are called the “Scarcella Lists” — compilations of cases involving a retired New York City homicide detective whose problematic work on homicides in the 1980s and 1990s was cited in numerous wrongful convictions that have cost the city and state millions.

For years, prosecutors did not disclose the broad scope of cases that the detective, Louis Scarcella, may have tainted, despite interest from lawyers and exoneration advocates.

But thanks to a simple computer slip-up, the door recently cracked open to reveal details of dozens of homicide cases that were not scrutinized amid a decadelong re-evaluation of Mr. Scarcella’s cases that led to convictions.

In January, prosecutors mistakenly sent a large, unredacted computer file with the Scarcella lists to the lawyers who represent three men who had served long prison terms after being wrongfully convicted in one of the detective’s cases.

The 524-page PDF included names, docket numbers, case status and other information that could help identify problematic Scarcella cases, said Ronald Kuby, one of the two lawyers who received it. The lists were created by the Conviction Review Unit in the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, which has spent the past decade reviewing many of Mr. Scarcella’s homicide cases. His overturned cases, some of which left wrongfully convicted people in prison for decades, have cost New York taxpayers more than $100 million in settlements and claims.

Mr. Scarcella, who retired in 1999, has not been charged with any crimes despiteofficial findings of bad practices, and he has insisted he did nothing wrong. He gave his fullest public accounting yet in a new podcast called The Burden, in which he insisted he was simply one of many cogs in a system ratcheted up to rein in rampant crime during a time when murder rates were several times higher than they are today.

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