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Queens DA Files Motion to Overturn 1995 Robbery Conviction, Says Former Prosecutor Adopted Racist Approach in Jury Selection

Queens DA Melinda Katz (Photo: Instagram @queensdakatz)

Oct. 22, 2021 By Christian Murray

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz announced Tuesday that her office filed a motion to overturn a 1995 conviction of a man found guilty of robbery.

Katz filed the motion after her Conviction Integrity Unit discovered that the Assistant District Attorney at the time tainted the jury pool by improperly excluding certain minorities and women from jury service in violation of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Honorable Michelle Johnson, in response to the motion, vacated the conviction and dismissed the indictment of Lawrence Scott who was found guilty at trial for robbing a cab driver.

The CIU discovered the discriminatory practice after it was made aware in 2020 that Christopher McGrath, a former Assistant District Attorney, had adopted the discriminatory approach with other cases.

Katz’ office dismissed two 1996 convictions after discovering McGrath had expressly provided discriminatory guidance in the selection of the jury.  One of the convictions was for a double murder and another for the shooting of a police office. Katz said at the time the defendants would be retried.

The CIU then reviewed all jury trials conducted by McGrath—who resigned in 1997—to see whether he improperly excluded certain minorities and women from jury service in other cases.

“Late last year, we discovered two 1996 convictions had been tainted by evidence of discrimination in jury selection. At that, time, we made a commitment to review other cases and take appropriate action,” Katz said in a statement Tuesday. “Today’s motion to vacate this defendant’s conviction reaffirms my administration’s determination to reject any form of discrimination.”

Scott was convicted for robbing a cab driver in which he held a hard object to the victim’s neck while an apprehended accomplice stole the victim’s wallet. Scott was captured because he dropped his own wallet while fleeing the scene.

He was sentenced to five to ten years in prison.

Scott has long completed his sentence but is presently incarcerated on a different robbery, and counsel has been appointed to assess the impact of the reversal of this prior conviction on his current sentence.

The CIU has now vacated 10 convictions since it was formed by Katz after she took office in 2020.

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