Nelson Cruz walks free after 25 years of wrongful imprisonment in Brooklyn

After 25 years behind bars, a Hispanic man seeks to clear his name after being framed in 1998 for a murder he claims he did not commit.

Twenty-five years ago, Nelson Cruz was sentenced for a murder he did not commit in 1998 in East New York, Brooklyn. According to the Hispanic man’s story, Detective Louis Scarcella made him sign a confession under pressure to end the case, according to Cruz.

Yet Cruz was paroled after serving 25 years last Thursday, March 30. Cruz has been behind bars for nearly three decades, claiming his innocence and assuring that he had nothing to do with the murder for which he is charged. “I’m definitely still fighting (…) I’m not going to stop until my conviction is overturned,” he said as he walked through the doors of the Queensboro Correctional Facility, where his family greeted him.

The case took a key twist in 2019 when, at a release hearing, a New York City Police Department (NYPD) officer claimed that in 1998 he saw the crime scene and that Cruz was not the one who pulled the gun. In addition, Officer Scarcella stated that he had no clear recollection of the case, which is why the authorities ruled against Nelson Cruz.

Yet shortly thereafter, Nelson Cruz’s defense determined that the judge in the case had been experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. A new hearing on the case is supposed to be held. However, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office said Cruz had been held accountable for his crime, and our office supported his probation.

This would not be the most recent such case, as last March, after 19 years locked up for a murder he did not commit in Brooklyn, Emel McDowell was released after pleading guilty to a murder he did not commit.

The then-young McDowell took a plea deal on the promise that he could go free if he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor. Despite that, from 1990, he was convicted and incarcerated until the third week of March 2023, when a judge agreed to vacate his conviction after an investigation by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Convictions Review Unit.

Even in 1991, he submitted a letter written by the real killer, almost claiming responsibility for the crime with witness statements. Yet in 2009, he had no choice but to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter, affirming his involvement in the crime.