By Nikki Suzani
BROOKLYN – After serving 27 years for murder in the second degree, Ethan Hart finally got justice: the Brooklyn DA’s Conviction Review Unit (CRU) decided to vacate his conviction because of a very unreliable witness.
Hart’s case was one of very few reviewed that was convicted on solely one factor: that the witness who had placed him at the scene had potentially made a false allegation.
In 1987, a cab driver saw two masked men flag down his car and push a bleeding, dying man into the backseat, telling the driver to drive to the hospital as quick as he could. By the time the driver got there, however, the man was dead.
The witness (referred to by the initials of E.F.) placed Hart at the scene of the crime where the man was murdered.
The conviction relied on two testimonies: E.F.’s, who said she had witnessed Hart shoot the victim twice in an argument about drugs, and L.R., who testified that Hart had admitted to killing the victim. No other evidence was placed before the jury, and since L.R.’s was hearsay, E.F.’s was the most crucial.
While investigating Hart’s case, the CRU found significant credibility issues with E.F. which led them to believe that she had lied in her testimony.
First, E.F. had previously claimed that Hart was the perpetrator of a different shooting, and had testified against him just months before she testified in this case. When he was acquitted, she said that she heard that he was “looking for her.”
It was then, two months after the death of this victim, that she came to the police and told them she had seen Hart shoot the victim.
The problem with that, however, was that E.F. had already heard about this case throughout the investigation, as she had been working with the police to testify on the other one, and yet did not mention she had seen Hart shoot this victim until after he was acquitted on the other crime.
That raised the suspicion of the CRU, which believed she may have lied to protect herself from Hart, given that she believed he wanted to find her.
Further, E.F. became increasingly inconsistent and hostile with the CRU as they began investigating the crime, being less and less inclined to answer questions over time. This raised questions about her credibility which were augmented by the fact that E.F. herself had a criminal record, history of drug use, and had been highly active in drug sales and prostitution.
She’d also been a witness in at least six different murder cases within a very short time period, which in and of itself didn’t raise the suspicion of the CRU given that she was living in a high-risk area, but compounded with the other evidence seemed slightly more dubious.
Finally, E.F. had admitted she held a grudge against Hart, as he had allegedly robbed her at gunpoint. This case was also previously unreported.
This previous grudge, together with her fears for her own safety, her past lack of credibility, her hostility, and the fact that she waited two months to report witnessing the crime, was enough for the CRU to vacate Hart’s conviction.
Interestingly enough, E.F. was also the witness in another case that was vacated, the Anderson/Jones case.
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