There’s a special place in hell for a dirty detective whose bogus victim put more than a dozen innocent people in jail, a former inmate said Thursday.
But despite leading investigations that resulted in 13 wrongful convictions, Louis Scarcella’s shattered credibility is not an automatic get-out-of-jail-free card, according to prosecutors involved in the case of Nelson Cruz, who has served 20 years for a 1998 Brooklyn murder he says he did not commit.
Among those working on Cruz’s legal defense team is Derrick Hamilton, who was wrongfully imprisoned based on evidence manufactured by Scarcella and his partner, Stephen Chmil.
Hamilton and Cruz met in prison and realized Scarcella had worked both of their cases. Hamilton is now working to help Cruz, who appeared in court Thursday for oral arguments.
“I think they both should rot in hell,” Hamilton said. “They still get pensions and we have to fight for every penny when we get out of prison. I think there’s a special place for him in hell. He manufactured evidence. In this case, you have two police officers who saw the crime. He did it in my case, he did it in many cases: Lock people up to close the case. And this time it was Nelson Cruz.”
Judge ShawnDya Simpson called for the attorneys to give oral arguments on Thursday to determine if an evidentiary hearing should happen on a future date.
Cruz was 16 when he voluntarily went to the 75th Precinct stationhouse for questioning in an East New York murder.
His lawyers have said in court that Scarcella wrote out a confession and forced Cruz to sign it so he could go home.
Hamilton said the same thing happened to him. He had his murder conviction overturned in January 2015, and has since assisted with the exonerations of other Scarcella-related cases.
“He went in at 17 and now he’s 37,” Hamilton said of Cruz. “He wants to get out and have kids and hopes justice can be done.”
Cruz’s wife agreed.
“It’s been a very long time. I’m very anxious. I don’t know,” Ericka Cruz, 37, said outside the courtroom where opening arguments in his appeal will be heard.
“It’s tough,” she said. “He’s anxious. We just want it to be over and for him to be home where he needs to be, where he should have been. It doesn’t feel good. We grew up together. We’ve known each other since we were kids. To have him in for something he didn’t do doesn’t feel good.”
Ericka Cruz said she visits her husband at Greenhaven Correctional Facility almost every week. She added that his health is failing as he waits for his appeal to go through.
“He’s suffered from Bell’s palsy,” she said. “He’s not doing good. This is stressful and his health — where he’s at doesn’t help. I try my best to be there as much as I can, but there’s only so much I can do from home.”
Ericka Cruz has a daughter, and Nelson a stepdaughter, Sarayah, who cried during the hearing.
Cruz’s attorney, Justin Bonus, said his case might be the worst involving Scarcella.
“At minimum, we’re asking for a hearing,” Bonus said.
“Let the man have his day. He should be released right now. He’s innocent,” Bonus said. “I ask you to release him. He turns himself in. He thought people would treat him fairly.”
The retired Scarcella collects an NYPD pension, enjoys swims in the ocean as a member of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club and is the proud father of a daughter who serves as a prosecutor.
Michael Palladino, president of the Detectives’ Endowment Association, said Scarcella is a “political scapegoat.”
Scarcella has maintained that the people whose convictions were overturned were still guilty.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, argued that each Scarcella case must be reviewed on its individual merit.
“Each case has to be decided on its own facts,” said Camille Gillespie, an assistant district attorney.