A judge dismissed the murder convictions of Vincent Ellerbe, James Irons and Thomas Malik, three men incarcerated for decades for the killing of a subway token clerk in 1995, according to The Associated Press. The three say they were coerced into giving false confessions.
Harry Kaufman was attacked Nov. 26, 1995 during an overnight shift, AP reported. The booth exploded after a couple of robbers set it on fire. Though Kaufman escaped, he died weeks later. Ellerbe, Irons and Malik had confessed to the murders. However, comparisons between the arson and a specific movie scene from “Money Train” grabbed national attention and caused the case to be re-examined.
Read more about the case from AP News:
In fact, Irons was home with his mother, around the corner from the subway station, when he heard the explosion and called 911 — a call that was never played for jurors, said his lawyer, David Shanies.
The attack bore some resemblance to a scene in “Money Train,” a comparison that prompted then-Senate Majority Leader and Republican presidential hopeful Bob Dole to call for a boycott of the movie. Authorities gave mixed signals over the years about whether they believed the film had inspired the killing.
Police eventually came to question Irons, getting a confession that he acted as a lookout. He implicated Malik and Ellerbe as the ones who had torched the tollbooth.
The men maintained that they had been coerced into false confessions, with Malik saying Detective Louis Scarcella screamed at him and slammed his head into a locker. Scarcella testified that he cursed, pounded a table and was trying to scare the then-18-year-old Malik, but didn’t beat him.
The Central Park Five wasn’t the only case where a group of Black men were bullied by detectives into giving fake confessions. How many more Black men have been wrongfully imprisoned under the same circumstances?
Malik and Irons, now 45 years old, came home free after over 25 years. Irons said he felt “great” while leaving the court. Malik said the exoneration was “definitely too little, too late,” but looks forward to seeing his mother who recently had surgery, per AP’s report.
Ellerbe was paroled in 2020, reports say. He is now a chef and has a 26-year-old daughter he hasn’t gotten to watch grow.
“What happened to us can never be fixed. They break you, or they turn you into a monster,” said Ellerbe.