David McCallum, a Brooklyn man who was imprisoned for 29 years for a murder he did not commit, came back to Rutgers Law School to talk about a new book about his life, at the invitation of Clinical Professor Laura Cohen, who, along with her students, helped get his conviction overturned.
McCallum was accompanied by journalist Ken Klonsky, who recently wrote a book about the case called “Freeing David McCallum: The Last Miracle of Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter.” Carter, the former champion boxer who was wrongfully convicted of murder in New Jersey in the 1960’s, spearheaded the fight for McCallum’s exoneration through Innocence International, which he founded in Canada following his own release from prison.
“This book pretty much represents my life,” McCallum said. “My thought was I would never get out, but I was very strong in my desire to keep going forward.”
McCallum was 16 when he and a friend were arrested for kidnapping and killing a 20-year-old in Queens. He said he was coerced into a false confession and, although he and his friend recanted, they were sentenced to 25 years to life in prison when McCallum was 17 years old. “I naively thought the truth would come out,” he said.
McCallum said after his appeals ran out, he embarked on a letter writing campaign about his case and wrote hundreds of letters, including one to Klonsky, who shared McCallum’s case with Carter. “I was determined to prove my innocence no matter how long it took,” McCallum said.
Klonsky, who brought copies of his book Rutgers Law School, read an excerpt from a letter written by a dying Carter on McCallum’s behalf saying it was his final wish that McCallum be granted a new hearing.
Carter had assembled a team of pro bono counsel on McCallum’s behalf, including a law professor from Northwestern University who recruited Cohen and the Rutgers Law Criminal and Youth Justice Clinic to assist. Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson eventually re-examined evidence, and found several inconsistencies and DNA evidence that did not support that Stuckey or McCallum were the killers. In 2014, McCallum’s and Stuckey’s convictions were vacated and McCallum was released. Years earlier, Stuckey had died in prison of a heart attack.
For years, Rutgers Law students submitted briefs to the New York State Parole Board and courts so McCallum, who had earned his GED and college credits while incarcerated, would be granted parole. But because he would not show remorse for a crime he didn’t commit, he said he was denied four times. McCallum thanked Rutgers Law graduate Shashwat Dave ’15, a former clinic student who attended the talk, and said, “Rutgers will always have a special place in my heart.”