Free at last: Court vacates conviction of Barbadian

Michael Waithe and his girlfriend Karen Garrick leave a courtroom after Waithe was exonerated in New York, Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015. A state Supreme Court judge granted a prosecutor’s motion to vacate Waithe’s 1987 burglary conviction. Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson says in a statement Waithe came to the U.S. seeking a better life but was instead framed for a crime he didn’t commit. The green card-holder faces deportation based on the conviction.
Associated Press / Seth Wenig

A New York State Supreme Court judge on Thursday vacated the conviction of a Barbadian national who had spent 18 months in jail for a crime prosecutors now say never occurred.

The conviction of Michael Waithe, 52, who has a green card and faces deportation because of a felony burglary in 1987, was vacated by Justice Neil Jon Firetog, who granted a motion by Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson to vacate the case.

“This hardworking and innocent man came to our country for a better life and ended up being framed and went to prison for a crime that he didn’t commit,” Thompson said in a statement.

“He now faces being ripped apart from his family, including his three beautiful children and granddaughter,” Thompson added. “Wrongful convictions lead not only to wrongful imprisonment but also can impact a person’s job, housing or immigration status.”

Thompson said Waite did not commit the supposed 1986 crime, which also never occurred.

Waithe was a security guard at a Brooklyn building when a tenant “claimed she saw Mr. Waithe taking items out of the apartment,” along with two other individuals she could not identify, said Prosecutor Mark Hale at a hearing on Thursday.

Hale said there was no physical evidence, adding that there was “scant evidence a burglary had, in fact, been committed.”

He said the witness was “the sole person who was responsible for the conviction of the defendant.”

In the fall, Waithe contacted the Conviction Review Unit at the Office of the Brooklyn District Attorney, which examines questionable cases at the request of lawyers, defendants or family members, according to the New York Times.

The paper said the unit’s lawyers interviewed the witness, who said that no burglary had occurred.

Hale said she accused Waithe “solely because she did not like him, and thought he was responsible for the theft of an auto from her.”

“These things happen in life; unfortunately it happened to me,” said Waithe after his case was vacated.

He recalled that, in 2011, he was stopped by immigration officers on arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York from his native Barbados.

He said he was targeted for deportation because of the 1987 felony burglary conviction.

Waite’s lawyer, Matthew Smalls, said his client’s immigration status remains in flux, as he has a separate hearing shortly with the Immigration and Custom Enforcement agency.

Smalls said the sole basis for the deportation hearing is now the cleared felony conviction, according to the Times.

Thompson said Waite’s case is the 12th, and the first non-homicide, in which a conviction has been vacated after being investigated by his office’s Conviction Review Unit. The unit was established last year.

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