Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr., today announced his Office moved to vacate the murder convictions of Eric Smokes, 56, and David Warren, 53, for a fatal robbery and assault that occurred New Year’s Day 1987 near Times Square. Mr. Smokes was 19-years-old at the time of the indictment and served 24 years in prison before being released on parole in 2011. Mr. Warren was 16-years-old when he was indicted and served 20 years in prison before being released on parole in 2007. In October, the D.A.’s Office asked the Court to vacate the convictions based on new evidence uncovered through a collaborative reinvestigation between its Post-Conviction Justice Unit (“PCJU”) and defense counsel for Mr. Smokes and Mr. Warren. Today, Judge Stephen Antignani vacated the convictions and dismissed the underlying indictment.
“Eric Smokes and David Warren lost decades of their life to an unjust conviction. I am inspired by the unyielding advocacy of Mr. Smokes and Mr. Warren and hope that today’s decision can finally bring them a measure of comfort and justice. I thank our Post-Conviction Justice Unit for its thorough reinvestigation, and to the Court for its careful consideration of this matter,” said District Attorney Bragg. “It is never too late to reconsider the integrity of old convictions, because everyone in New York deserves equal justice under the law.”
On New Year’s Day 1987, Jean Casse, a 71-year-old tourist from France, was robbed and assaulted on West 52nd Street while walking with his wife shortly after midnight. Mr. Casse’s cause of death was injuries to his neck and head caused by the assault.
Both Mr. Smokes and Mr. Warren were charged with Murder in the Second Degree, Robbery in the First Degree, and Robbery in the Second Degree. Mr. Smokes was also charged with Manslaughter in the First Degree. They were convicted at trial in July 1987. All the witnesses who identified the two and testified at trial were teenagers.
In 2017, the Office opposed defense counsel’s motion to vacate the conviction, which was denied by the Court in 2020. In 2022, PCJU opened its reinvestigation that included interviews with more than 20 witnesses and a review of all underlying prosecution and police files. The reinvestigation uncovered significant new evidence since the 2017 motion, including new interviews with the teenagers who testified at trial, which established that many of them were treated as suspects. One teenager who had testified in 1987, saying he had seen Mr. Smokes and Mr. Warren commit the assault and robbery, deepened and provided more context for his previous recantation. He first recanted his testimony in 2018 and in interviews with the Office during the reinvestigation, revealed he accused Mr. Smokes and Mr. Warren to avoid getting arrested and that he was made to feel like a suspect. The Office was able to corroborate his account through other new evidence uncovered during the reinvestigation.
Another teenage witness who initially testified he had seen Mr. Smokes and Mr. Warren commit the attack recanted his testimony and stated he did not witness the assault or robbery, and only saw the aftermath. Furthermore, he revealed he was told by police that another witness had already identified Mr. Smokes and Mr. Warren, and if he did not similarly accuse them, he would be charged.
The Office found additional information that further undermined testimony provided at trial. In 1987 a testifying eyewitness stated he and several friends observed Mr. Smokes and Mr. Warren commit the crime. The Office interviewed one of those friends, who was a teenager at the time, as part of its reinvestigation. This individual stated he was never at the crime scene and that the eyewitness testimony was untrue. Law enforcement records from the time corroborated important parts of his current account. Additional context included:
- Mr. Smokes and Mr. Warren previously provided an alibi—that they were elsewhere in Times Square on the night of the crime—which was corroborated by several of their friends.
- Descriptions of the main perpetrator given by witnesses at the time of the incident did not match Mr. Smokes.
- Contradictions between the teenagers’ testimony at the time of trial.
The investigation was conducted by PCJU Chief Terri Rosenblatt, ADA Talia Gooding-Williams, and Supervising Investigative Analyst Karina Patel with assistance from Senior Investigator Dennis Suarez.
About the Post-Conviction Justice Unit:
The Post-Conviction Justice Unit (“PCJU”) was created by District Attorney Bragg to review the Office’s closed cases. PCJU conducts independent and impartial post-conviction reinvestigation done in collaboration with impacted individuals and their counsel to determine whether a conviction should be vacated or modified where there is no longer confidence in the outcome. Since its creation the unit has successfully moved to vacate nine convictions. It has dismissed more than 500 convictions tied to police officers accused of misconduct.