An innocent man has been cleared of murdering a 14-year-old girl after spending 33 years in prison.
Keith Bush was 17 years old when charged with the murder of Sherese Watson in Bellport, New York, 44 years ago. In the decades since, the now 62-year-old man has remained adamant he did not commit the crime.
On Wednesday morning (May 22), Bush was finally exonerated in Suffolk County District Court in Long Island, despite being released from prison in 2007.
Sherese Watson was murdered in 1975, with her body being found in a vacant lot after she never returned home from a house party. The Independent reports the victim had been strangled and sexually abused.
Bush, then 17-years-old, was arrested four days later and signed a confession to the murder, which the jury believed at trial. However, Bush claimed the police had beaten him and forced him to sign a confession that he’d never even read.
A person who attended the party testified in court she saw Bush leave with the victim that night, although she recanted her testimony at a hearing five years later and said she’d never even attended the party. This did not lead to a new trial.
While imprisoned, Bush enlisted the help of a lawyer at Pace Law School, who sued to obtain records and discovered evidence which showed he had not received a fair trial.
Even though he was released in 2007, Bush was placed on lifetime parole and had to register as a high-risk sex offender. On Wednesday, he was finally cleared.
Suffolk County district attorney, Timothy D Sini, asked the judge to throw out the conviction, saying prosecutors never informed the defence that police had interviewed another possible culprit.
Judge Anthony Senft Jr told Bush:
I cannot give you that which was taken from you in the 1970s, but what I can restore to you today is your presumption of innocence.
Bush said he was ‘truly humbled’ by the decision, telling the judge he had lived a long period of his life in pain: ‘No one would listen. No one would at least hear me out’.
No one, that is, except Adele Bernhard, a lawyer who Bush wrote to in 2006 to declare his innocence. He asked Bernhard to help him prove it, sparking her interest immediately.
After reading his statement he’d signed as a 17-year-old, the lawyer knew she had to take on the case, stating: ‘It was internally inconsistent. The facts that they put in it, the words that they use, none of it rang true’.
From there, Bernhard was able to spot other inconsistencies in the trial, including DNA evidence found under the victim’s fingernails not matching that of Bush.
— Eyewitness News (@ABC7NY) May 23, 2019
Despite having a motion to vacate the conviction denied in 2008, the lawyer continued and on Wednesday, Bush’s name was cleared.
While looking through the evidence, Bernhard noted another man, John W Jones Jr, who has since died – was named as another possible suspect for the murder.
In a statement, Jones Jr told police he had stumbled over Ms Watson’s body in the empty lot after leaving the party drunk. He also said a comb found next to her body looked like one he had dropped.
However, Bush’s defence lawyer at the trial says these statements were never disclosed to him, a clear violation of evidence rules.
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A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).