On Thursday March 10, 49-year-old Andre Hatchett was released from prison after spending nearly a quarter of a century behind bars for the beating death of a woman in 1991. Hatchett was serving 25 years to life for the murder of Neda Mae Carter, who was strangled, beaten in the head, and left in a park in New York.
Hatchett went to trial twice in the alleged murder; the first ending in a mistrial after Hatchett’s defense attorneys were thought to be “inept,” according to news reports. At the time of the murder, Hatchett was on crutches and had several injuries after being shot in the trachea and legs just months earlier. The injuries Hatchett had at the time he allegedly killed Carter went unmentioned at trial. Hatchett was hardly able to read or write at the time of his trial due to intellectual disabilities that had plagued him all his life, so he was not able to give his defense team support.
Assistant District Attorney Mark Hale said that Hatchett’s case was one of “systemic failure” for several reasons. Not only was Hatchett injured at the time of the murder, prosecutors in the case never revealed to defense attorneys that a “star witness” picked the suspect from a lineup, yet had initially named another man as Carter’s killer.
Hatchett said upon leaving court that he knew he would go home one day, because he didn’t commit the crime. The primary reason he was the top suspect in the murder was, like in many other cases, because he was the last person to see her alive. According to news reports, Hatchett and Carter were friends, and both left her apartment together the night of the murder.
Gerald “Jerry” Williams, a suspect in a burglary, told police about a week after the murder that he and a friend had witnessed the killing in the park. Williams identified a suspect, but it turned out the suspect was already in jail, a strong alibi. Then Williams picked Hatchett out in a lineup, however the friend that had allegedly witnessed the murder with Williams said she was unsure at first, although she went ahead and chose Hatchett. She was never called to testify at Hatchett’s trial, according to his defense attorneys.
It seems there were a series of mishaps and mistakes that resulted in Hatchett’s conviction at his second trial – not really all that unusual, but sadly, often resulting in the imprisonment of innocent individuals.
While Hatchett has been set free, this rarely happens. Anyone who has been found guilty of a crime and who is innocent or feels that mistakes were made in the criminal justice system should consult with a criminal appeals attorney. Successfully appealing a conviction requires a defense lawyer who is thoroughly experienced in the complex appeals process.