What to Know
Eric Smokes, 51, and David Warren, 48, best friends growing up in Brooklyn, went to prison together as teens in a 1987 Times Square murder
The two men, now out of prison, are fighting to clear their names; they say they were never the crime scene that New Year's Day
"The number of witnesses, the police misconduct that’s alleged is mind-blowing," one of their attorneys says
They were best friends growing up together in Brooklyn, then went to prison together for murder. Now 51-year-old Eric Smokes and 48-year-old David Warren are on a joint mission to clear their names.
In the early hours of Jan. 1, 1987, a French tourist named Jean Casse was set upon and mugged in Times Square. He was viciously beaten and died of his injuries, and within days, Manhattan North detectives charged Smokes, then 19, and Warren, 16, with robbery and murder.
It was a high-profile crime during a time of escalating violence in New York City and simmering racial tensions. Tabloids claimed that "wilding" black youths planned to target whites.
The two teens always maintained they had traveled with friends into Manhattan to see the ball drop, but were never anywhere near the crime scene.
Said defense attorney James Henning, "Young black witnesses were brought in and told, 'We need you to identify somebody. If not, maybe we’ll start showing your photograph around to people who were in Times Square that night and maybe you’ll get picked. Maybe we’ll charge you with this crime.'"
The prime witness against the two was a career criminal who, years later, signed an affidavit that he lied about the teens' involvement in the crime. Other witnesses have also since signed sworn statements that they were pressured to lie by police officers and/or the prosecutor.
"We was ideal people to use as the fall guy. We was young black kids that didn’t have much doing," said Smokes in an exclusive I-Team interview. "The fact that we had to go on trial on this was devastating, like when you know you didn’t commit the crime."
Warren said, "I had some unrealistic views that the truth would prevail, but once we started going into court and I started seeing people lie, I was like, 'Oh.'"
Smokes, sentenced to a term of 15 years to life, was paroled in 2007. Warren, also sentenced to 15 years to life, was paroled in 2011.
"I was scared going through things hoping it would get better, but it seemed like it got worse," said Warren. "I think I was in shock for the first five years of my incarceration because I really don’t remember what I did."
Warren said he was initially offered a plea deal of a few years behind bars if he would turn on his best friend.
"I just couldn’t live with doing something like that to him, even though I could have walked," Warren said.
The two kept in contact in different prisons through the years, writing to each other once a month. They vowed to prove their innocence together, once released. Both married high school girlfriends and became construction workers.
"It’s like this battle is not just mine or not just his -- it’s ours," said Warren.
"We’ve got to stand together. I’m physically free, but mentally I’m not free," said Smokes.
In 2017, two defense attorneys working for Smokes and Warren filed a 440-motion to vacate the convictions based on newly discovered evidence and/or actual innocence.
Said attorney Pierre Sussman, "The number of witnesses, the police misconduct that’s alleged is mind-blowing."
In June of 2018, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office consented to a hearing but added in court papers, "The People do not concede the truth of any of the assertions of fact made by the defendants or contained in the submitted affidavits, and deny many of these claims."
A hearing was scheduled to begin Nov. 14.