Global law firm White & Case LLP, working pro bono, achieved victory at the Brooklyn Supreme Court and successfully reversed the conviction of Eric DeBerry in connection with a 1999 shooting.
Following a two-day evidentiary hearing in December 2019 and January 2020, the court found that DeBerry had proven by clear and convincing evidence that he is actually innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted—the first finding of actual innocence in New York State since 2014. DeBerry was released from Mohawk Correctional Facility in upstate New York on June 23, having wrongfully served over 20 years in prison.
Sam Hershey, White & Case associate and lead attorney on the case, said, "We are thrilled for Eric and his family as they reunite for the first time in over 20 years. This is a proud moment for our Firm and an outstanding accomplishment for our team that worked tirelessly on this case and never lost faith that justice would prevail."
"I want to thank the team at White & Case for believing in me and fighting for me," DeBerry said. "After 20 years in prison, I am finally home with my family, including my daughter, who was three months old when I was incarcerated. It is a new beginning for which I have long hoped and am extremely grateful."
DeBerry's conviction occurred in connection with the 1999 shooting of Kareem Collins in Brooklyn. Collins told detectives that he was shot during an armed robbery perpetrated by DeBerry, who was later arrested and charged. He pleaded not guilty and consistently maintained his innocence. Nonetheless, following a jury trial in which Collins testified as the People's primary witness, DeBerry was convicted of assault, robbery and criminal possession of a weapon and sentenced to 25 years to life.
In 2003, DeBerry's claims of innocence were bolstered when Roberto Velasquez came forward and issued a sworn affidavit testifying that he, not DeBerry, was the shooter. Acting pro se, DeBerry filed a motion asserting his innocence. A hearing was held and Velasquez testified. The judge found Velasquez not credible, primarily because his rendition of the shooting differed markedly from the testimony Collins had given at trial. DeBerry's motion was denied, and he remained incarcerated.
In a major breakthrough in DeBerry's case, in 2018, Collins came forward to issue his own sworn affidavit setting forth the truth about the shooting—that he was not the victim of an armed robbery, as he originally testified, but that he was actually trying to rob Velasquez, who shot him instead. This version of events matches exactly what Velasquez stated in his 2003 affidavit and during the hearing. Collins states that he has come forward because he only recently learned of Velasquez's affidavit and wants to do the right thing.
Friends and family of DeBerry reached out to Hershey regarding the case, and White & Case, following a review of the facts and circumstances, agreed to take up DeBerry's cause. Working with the White & Case team, DeBerry filed a new motion based on the new evidence presented in Collins's affidavit. The DA's Office opposed the motion, and a two-day evidentiary hearing followed. On June 16, the Brooklyn Supreme Court overruled the DA's Office's opposition and held that DeBerry had proven by clear and convincing evidence that he is actually innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted.
The White & Case team that led the case includes partner David Hille and associates Sam Hershey, Gina Chiappetta and Sean Sigillito, all in New York.
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