Nov. 20, 2020 By Allie Griffin
An innocent man who had been incarcerated for more than a quarter century was released from prison after a Queens judge tossed his 1995 murder conviction Thursday.
Ernest “Jaythan” Kendrick became a free man after Queens Supreme Court Justice Joseph Zayas vacated the murder conviction and dismissed the indictment charging him with the fatal stabbing of a 70-year-old woman in Long Island City nearly 26 years ago.
The court overturned the conviction due to newly discovered witnesses and DNA evidence.
New witness testimony contradicted previous witness accounts in the case, and new DNA evidence failed to link Kendrick to the victim, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said.
Katz filed a joint motion with the defense to vacate the murder conviction of Kendrick.
Kendrick was convicted of stabbing Josephine Sanchez, 70, twice in the back and running off with her purse on the grounds of the Ravenswood Houses on Nov. 30, 1994.
He was picked up by police several hours after the murder because he loosely fit the description of the suspect that a 10-year-old witness gave to police, Katz said.
However, the child initially identified someone else in an in-person lineup that included Kendrick, according to Katz. The 10-year-old changed his selection to Kendrick after leaving the viewing room and under “disputed circumstances,” she said.
A second witness told police that he saw Kendrick fleeing the murder scene with a black purse under his arm, according to court records.
Investigators found a black purse inside Kendrick’s home — which he shared with a woman — and the 10-year-old witness said it looked similar to the purse that was stolen from Sanchez.
The purse, however, did not contain the victim’s DNA when it was recently tested. Such testing was not available in 1995.
Four new witnesses also undermine the credibility of the second witness’ testimony, she said.
One new witness who has come forward saw the assailant flee in the opposite direction than the second witness had said and another new witness — whose apartment the second witness claimed to have been visiting — said she was not at home at the time the second witness stated he was with her.
Taken together, Katz said, these new witnesses and the exculpatory DNA results create a reasonable probability that the jury would have acquitted Kendrick.
Justice Zayas agreed and threw out Kendrick’s conviction Thursday. Kendrick was subsequently released.
His case was re-investigated by the DA’s Conviction Integrity Unity (CIU), which Katz created at the start of the year. It was submitted to CIU by the Innocence Project and WilmerHale Law Firm.
“This case is a prime example of why the CIU exists,” Katz said. “We can’t stand idly by when new evidence is presented that undermines confidence in an original jury verdict.”