A Brooklyn man who spent over two decades in prison for a crime he didn't commit died less than a year after he was exonerated by the Kings County District Attorney. Sharrif Wilson, 38, passed away on Saturday night at Mount Sinai Hospital; he had been hospitalized since December after complaining of breathing problems. His attorney Adam Perlmutter tells the Daily News, "He was a young healthy man when he went in and he was a sick unhealthy man when he came out."
Wilson and his alleged accomplice Antonio Yarbough spent more than two decades in prison for the 1992 murders of Yarbough’s mother, his 12-year-old sister and another 12-year-old relative. Wilson, who was 15 at the time of his arrest, had confessed to the murders and testified against Yarbough as part of a plea deal, but he later recanted, saying his confession had been coerced.
Yarbough, who discovered the bodies of his loved ones and called 911, later told CNN, "Before you know it, I had this photograph shoved in my face, and I was being threatened and slapped around, and they wanted me to sign a false confession. And I wouldn't." Wilson said, "I was scared, afraid; I was lied to, manipulated into believing that I was going to go home, if I do tell... what they said happened." Watch a powerful interview the two men granted to CNN after their release:
In 2013, DNA testing revealed that blood under one of the victim's fingernails matched DNA found on the body of another murder victim from 1999, Magdalia Ruiz. Both Yarbough and Wilson were already in prison by that time for the Yarbough murders. Last February, the two men were finally released and their convictions overturned following a review of the case that was completed by Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson.
Since ousting longtime Kings County DA Charles Hynes, who lost a nasty reelection bid in 2013, Thompson has been reviewing dozens of potential wrongful convictions that happened on Hynes's watch. And the dubious legacy of homicide detective Louis Scarcella has prompted an investigation into over 50 convictions that may have been won through coerced confessions and discredited witnesses. (Hynes is also being investigated by the feds for allegedly using state asset forfeiture funds to fund his failed 2013 campaign.)
Hynes’s office "resisted requests to reinvestigate" the Wilson and Yarbough case for months, the Times reported last year. When he was finally released last February, Wilson said, "I was young, afraid, not used to being in the precinct and the justice system. I didn’t know much then. It was pretty easy for them to coerce me into giving false statements."
Wilson suffered from acute respiratory distress syndrome, which was allegedly exacerbated by his lengthy prison term. "I find it heartbreaking that a boy could serve (21) years for a crime he didn’t commit and finally come home and have only 11 months to spend with his family,” Yarbough said in a statement released over the weekend. "My heart breaks for the family and the mother that lost her son not once but twice."
The murderer of Yarbough's family remains at large. Wilson's lawyer says his family is planning to file a civil suit against the city and New York state.