When David McCallum was 16 he confessed to a 1985 botched carjacking in Ozone Park, Queens, but he now says that was the worst decision of his life.
“I think about it so much I become mentally fatigued,” McCallum said.
The confession, videotaped inside Brooklyn’s 83rd Precinct, shows McCallum admitting he was present when 20-year-old Nathan Blenner was abducted, fatally shot and dumped in a Bushwick park.
Why would a teenager confess to a crime he didn't commit?
McCallum says his confession was made under “under extreme duress.”
During the interrogation, McCallum says he was told his friend, Willie Stuckey, was pointing the finger of blame at him from another interview room. So McCallum did the same.
“We actually pointed the finger at each other.”
In essence, the words of two teenagers were the only pieces of evidence used to put them each behind bars for life.
Now McCallum is trying to convince the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office to re-open his case, arguing even those confessions are riddled with inconsistencies and new DNA evidence suggests someone else was the killer.
“I’ve never seen a confession like this," said McCallum’s lawyer, Oscar Michelen. "It is two minutes long. It has no detail whatsoever.”
In Stuckey’s confession, he said there were three shots fired at Nathan Blenner. McCallum said there was just one shot.
Stuckey also confessed to walking around in Blenner’s neighborhood and commenting on another neighbor’s vehicle. That neighbor has since signed a sworn affidavit that she was shown mug books of robbery suspects, and she did not pick McCallum or Stuckey.
Michelen says both McCallum and Stuckey had prior robbery convictions.
“We have good reason to believe that David and Willie’s photographs would have been included in those mug books and she did not identify anybody in those mug books,” Michelen said.
False confessions are more common than many people think. According to the Innocence Project, 25 percent of DNA exonerations have involved defendants who incriminated themselves.
Russell Wilson, who heads the unit that reviews convictions in the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, says teenagers especially can be susceptible to coercive interrogations.
“You just have to realize that it doesn’t necessarily take beating a person physically to cause them to confess to something they didn’t do,” Wilson said. “You can simply create a situation where they believe they have absolutely no other choice.”
Up against a seasoned detective, McCallum said he felt helpless.
“On equal footing, I would not have falsely confessed to this crime,” he said.
Despite lingering questions about the confessions, Nathan Blenner’s surviving family members have previously said they believe McCallum and Stuckey are the true killers. Efforts by the I-Team to contact the Blenners were unsuccessful.
Recently, the Brooklyn District Attorney Conviction Integrity Unit agreed to DNA test cigarette butts found inside Nathan Blenner’s stolen Buick Regal. The results came back positive -- not for McCallum nor Stuckey -- but for a man who was 14 years old at the time of the killing. McCallum and his lawyers believe that man may know who the real killer is.
But prosecutors say they have thoroughly re-investigated the McCallum case, and have closed it.
Jerry Schmetterer, a spokesman for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, said in a statement, “Executive ADA John O’Mara, chief of the Conviction Integrity Unit, has thoroughly investigated this case and finds no merit to the claim of innocence.”
The District Attorney’s Office did not respond to questions about inconsistencies in McCallum and Stuckey’s confessions or the DNA testing.
Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Conviction Integrity Unit has undertaken a review of about 50 convictions handled by Luis Scarcella, a retired Brooklyn detective who built a flawed murder case against David Ranta. Ranta was exonerated in March after prosecutors determined Scarcella allowed criminals to smoke crack and visit prostitutes in exchange for incriminating Ranta. Scarcella has not been disciplined and has insisted he did nothing wrong.
Sitting in the visiting room of the New York’s medium security Otisville Correctional Facility, David McCallum, now 44 years old, fears the load of those 50 Scarcella cases could smother any chance his bid for freedom will ever be seriously considered again.
“No one wants to see an innocent person get out of prison more than me and no one is more encouraged or happy when it happens,” McCallum said.
“I would just hope that cases like mine are not glossed over or totally forgotten.”