standard ‘David & Me’ Is A Heartbreaking, Urgent Call For Justice For a Wrongfully Convicted Man (UPDATED)

David McCallum's family has been fighting for his release for 28 years (Photo by Matthew Taub)

Ernestine McCallum (second from left) and the rest of David McCallum’s family has been fighting for his release for 28 years (Photo by Matthew Taub)

Update 10/15/14: The Brooklyn DA issued a statement advising he will move to vacate David McCallum’s conviction after nearly 30 years in prison. The DA’s statement follows the original film review, below:

“I actually heard about this case two years ago,” the criminal defense attorney sitting behind me said. “But it’s only seeing it like this–seeing this film–that you understand the tragedy. I’m a grown man, and I was in tears.”

Photo by Matthew Taub

Ken Klonsky, Ray Klonsky (the filmmaker), and Oscar Michelen, Esq. (David’s pro-bono attorney)(Photo by Matthew Taub)

This reviewer was similarly aghast. I wish I could tell you my critical impression of the documentary ‘David & Me’ — that of it’s quality, direction, pacing and plot. But it concerns a matter too urgent for a traditional review.

David McCallum is in prison for a crime for which it seems overwhelmingly obvious he did not commit (photo via Cargo Films)

David McCallum is in prison for a crime for which it seems overwhelmingly obvious he did not commit (photo via Cargo Films)

You need to see this film now, and then do whatever you can to get this man out of prison.

Championed by the likes of the late Rubin “Hurricane” Carter and an unlikely alliance of father-son Canadian writer-filmmakers, defense attorneys, and other activists, ‘David & Me’ is a layered, intricate, and extremely well-executed portrait of of a false 1985 confession from a teenage suspect, one David McCallum from Bushwick. Based on that coerced confession, and despite a lack of any physical evidence, ineffective assistance of counsel at trial, and the disregard of important evidence pointing to other suspects, McCallum was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for a murder he quite clearly did not commit. He remains behind bars to this day.

Many reviews might naturally contrast the film (and the underlying case) to that of the Central Park Five. But that film championed the right of those wrongfully convicted Defendants for civil compensation–they had already been released from prison in 2002.

Photo by Matthew Taub

Investigator Van Padgett and Oscar Michelen, Esq., David’s pro-bono attorney, both appeared in the film (Photo by Matthew Taub)

McCallum, by contrast, may die in jail.

“The Parole Board, unfortunately, has unfettered discretion,” said Laura Cohen, a law professor at Rutgers University, in a Q&A after the film’s screening at the Quad Cinema Friday evening. “They’re all seasoned political appointees, and David has to face them each time alone. It can be very intimidating.”

Ray Klonsky, Marc Lamy (co-director), Van Padgett (Private Investigator), Laura Cohen (Rutgers Law Professor), and Ken Klonsky (Photo by Matthew Taub)

Ray Klonsky, Marc Lamy (co-director), Van Padgett (Private Investigator), Laura Cohen (Rutgers Law Professor), and Ken Klonsky (Photo by Matthew Taub)

As relayed by it’s title, the film also contains a human interest story involving the filmmaker’s personal growth as a result of his relationship with McCallum. That relationship–as well as its peculiar origins, and charming development–is touching and unique. But with repetitive parole boards refusing to grant McCallum release, largely for his unwillingness to express remorse for a crime he didn’t commit, those appreciations must be reserved for another day.

“If the parole board came tonight, we’d buy them popcorn,” Cohen added. “We’d love for them to see this film.”

“I’ve asked the DA to review the conviction,” added Oscar Michelen, McCallum’s pro-bono criminal defense attorney, who appears in the film. Michelen noted, however, that he has received only a non-committal response.

Photo by Matthew Taub

Photo by Matthew Taub

In the meantime, you should see the film on these officials’ behalf, to help save David McCallum from a life in prison he doesn’t deserve.

David & Me – Trailer from Markham Street Films on Vimeo.

Update: Statement from Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson (10/15/14):

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson Announces He Will Move to Vacate Conviction of David McCallum Who Has Been Wrongfully Imprisoned for Nearly 30 Years

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson today announced that he will move to vacate murder and other charges against David McCallum and the late Willie Stuckey, who were convicted in the 1985 kidnapping and murder of Nathan Blenner. The decision follows a thorough review of the case by the District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit.

“In the interest of justice, I will ask the Court today to vacate the murder convictions of David McCallum and Willie Stuckey.  After a thorough and fair review of the case by my Conviction Review Unit and the Independent Review Panel, I have concluded that their convictions should not stand and that Mr. McCallum should be released from prison.” said District Attorney Ken Thompson.

David McCallum and Willie Stuckey (who has since died) were just 16 years old when they were charged with the kidnapping and murder of Nathan Blenner, 20, who was kidnapped on October 20, 1985, in front of his South Ozone Park, Queens home.  Mr. Blenner’s body was found the next day by children playing in an undeveloped lot adjacent to the rear of Aberdeen Park in Bushwick, Brooklyn.  He had been shot once in the head.

McCallum and Stuckey were arrested shortly thereafter and confessed to the crime.  They were convicted of second-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping, first-degree robbery and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, following a jury trial, on October 27, 1986.  They were both sentenced to the maximum of 25 years to life in prison.

After examining all of the facts and circumstances of the case against McCallum and Stuckey – the verdict against who was based entirely on their confessions – the convictions cannot be sustained.  The CRU investigation concluded that the confessions were false and not supported by physical or testimonial evidence.

From the totality of the circumstances, the CRU and the Independent Review Panel concluded that the jury’s fact-finding ability as to both defendants was significantly corrupted, and additionally finds clear reasonable doubt as to the truth and accuracy of the confessions, which were the sole bases of the defendants’ convictions.

To date, the work of the Conviction Review Unit, headed by Harvard Law Professor Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr., has resulted in nine convictions being vacated, and one appeal being dropped.  In addition, the CRU has found that of the cases reviewed thus far, 17 convictions are just and will not be recommended to be vacated.  Approximately 100 cases are pending review.