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Man who spent 19 years in jail for murder set to be exonerated after teaching himself law
Featured Image Credit: Twitter/@AyanaHarry / Alamy/REUTERS

Man who spent 19 years in jail for murder set to be exonerated after teaching himself law

He spent two decades behind bars for a crime he didn't commit

A man who served 19-years for a crime he didn’t commit will now have his conviction vacated.

Emel McDowell, 50, spent almost two decades in prison for the 1990 murder of Jonathan Powell, who was shot dead following a fight in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.

McDowell, who was just 17 at the time of the killing, was arrested, charged and, in 1992, was sentenced to 22-years to life in prison.

Following his conviction, McDowell maintained his innocence and vowed to clear his name - a fight that would take him more than 30 years.

Speaking outside of court today (Thursday March 16), he said: “I’m going to exhale. I mean, it’s been a long journey.

Emel McDowell spent two decades behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit.

“Even once you’re out, that cloud is always over your head. And you know, I’ve accomplished a lot while I’ve been out, but there’s been a lot of obstacles and there’s still a lot that I wasn’t able to accomplish.”

From the start, McDowell had said the real murderer was a friend of his, but despite having sworn affidavits from several witnesses confirming he was innocent, he remained behind bars.

While inside, McDowell familiarised himself with the law and in 2007, he submitted for review a letter he was sent by the real killer, in which he wrote: “I don’t think I deserve to walk the face of the earth because one of my best friends is locked up, for something that he didn’t do.”

Today a judge ruled that his conviction be vacated.

It was later revealed that this letter, which had been sent in 1991, had been given to McDowell’s defense team prior to the trial, but that it was 'not shown to the prosecutor or the court', according to Assistant D.A. Rachel Kalman.

In 2009, McDowell was finally granted a court hearing, but just days before it was due to go ahead he was offered a plea deal; if he pleaded guilty to manslaughter, he’d be given a six to 18-year sentence and, thanks to time served, would be free to leave jail.

Although he knew he was innocent, McDowell took the deal, explaining: “It was December 16, 2009, and my birthday was December 19.

“So it was an opportunity to get home with my family for Christmas after spending 19 years and two months in prison for something I didn’t do.”

McDowell vowed to clear his name more than 30 years ago.

Even though he was no longer in jail, McDowell didn’t give up on attempting to clear his name and today, a judge agreed to vacate the conviction following an investigation by Brooklyn D.A. Eric Gonzalez’s Conviction Review Unit.

Joining McDowell outside court today, Gonzalez said: “The obligation to get to the truth is ongoing. It’s continuing. And in your case, it was there from the very beginning. What diligence and hard work, we could have gotten to the truth earlier.

“I’m sorry it took us as long as it took us to get to this place.”

Topics: US News, Crime