Rutgers–Newark Law Professor on Legal Team That Wins Release of Wrongfully Convicted Man After 29 Years in Prison

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Newark, NJ, October 15, 2014 – David McCallum was given his freedom today after 29 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, in no small part because of the efforts of Clinical Professor Laura Cohen and her students in the Rutgers School of Law–Newark Criminal and Youth Justice Clinic.

The convictions of McCallum and Willie Stuckey, who died in prison in 2001, were dismissed at the request of Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson. In explaining his decision to vacate both men's convictions, Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson stated today, “We've concluded that the confessions were false, and they were false in large part because these 16-year-olds were fed false facts.”

McCallum and Stuckey were interrogated by police, charged, and ultimately convicted of the homicide. Both boys gave short-videotaped confessions after interrogations that were not electronically recorded.  No physical evidence linked them to the crime and eyewitnesses failed to identify either boy.

Professor Cohen and her students in collaboration with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern Law School were part of a legal team assembled by the late Rubin “Hurricane” Carter that has worked since 2004 to exonerate McCallum. The team found and interviewed witnesses, had the DA’s office test physical evidence for DNA, and established holes in the trial evidence that ultimately persuaded prosecutors that the boys’ confessions were false. 

The Rutgers Criminal and Youth Justice Clinic provides legal representation to incarcerated youths and to adults in minor criminal parole, and actual innocence matters. Under Cohen’s direction, the clinic has spearheaded several important amicus curiae efforts before the New Jersey Supreme Court in juvenile justice matters. These include State in the Interest of V.A., 212 N.J. 1(2012) (imposing a higher judicial review standard of prosecutorial decisions to try juveniles in adult court) and State in the Interest of P.M.P., 200 N.J. 166 (2009) (establishing that the right to counsel attaches at the time a juvenile delinquency petition is filed).

In 2012, Professor Cohen received the MacArthur Foundation’s “Champion for Change” award in recognition of her work with system-involved youth. She also is the recipient of the National Juvenile Defender Center’s Robert E. Shepherd Award for Excellence in Juvenile Defense and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey’s Legal Leadership Award.