Did the NYPD Bungle the Yusuf Hawkins Murder Case?

Issue 272

New evidence emerges that disgraced detective Louis Scarcella steered investigators away from likely shooter.

Theodore Hamm Jul 5, 2022

The senseless 1989 murder of Black teenager Yusuf Hawkins reverberates to this day in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, where many longtime residents insist that prosecutors wrongfully convicted Joey Fama of second-degree murder.  

More than a few locals involved in the case also know something not widely reported, but not in dispute — that notorious NYPD Detective Louis Scarcella played an active role in the investigation. Fama, now 52, continues to serve his 32-years-to-life sentence. 

Disgraced former NYPD Police Detective Louis Scarcella.

As The Indypendent reported in late May, despite the fact that Scarcella’s dirty tactics have resulted in at least 15 exonerations, the Brooklyn DA’s office continues to oppose challenges to the detective’s other cases. In mid-June, Brooklyn’s most tough-on-crime judge Vincent Del Giudice tossed yet another Scarcella conviction, that of crack kingpin “Baby Sam” Edmonson. The ruling prompted the Detectives Endowment Association to declare that it “stands by the work” of the disgraced detective.

In the Fama case, the Brooklyn DA’s office initially denied that Scarcella played any role at all. Twice in early 2016, the DA’s appeals bureau informed Fama that “no DD-5’s generated by Det. Scarcella were located within the relevant files.” Moreover, there were “no records located indicating that Det. Scarcella, who was assigned to Brooklyn North Homicide, had any involvement…with a Brooklyn South Homicide case.” 

Five years later, in response to Fama’s 440 motion (which seeks a hearing to determine whether his conviction should be overturned), the DA’s office changed its position. Although there are at least 11 DD-5’s (police reports) signed by Scarcella, the appeals team now insists that the detective nonetheless played a “minor role” in the investigation. 

To illustrate that point, ADA Morgan Dennehy highlighted the fact that there were nearly 800 DD-5’s created during the investigation. But according to Fama’s attorney Justin Bonus, the office has not yet turned over at least a few hundred of those reports, making it difficult to gauge the veracity of Dennehy’s claim regarding Scarcella’s role. 

Asked by The Indypendent to explain why he was involved in a Brooklyn South case, Scarcella referred the question to his lawyer, Joel Cohen, who was unable to comment. The Brooklyn DA’s spokesperson declined to add anything not found in the office’s court filings. Dennehy’s response to the 440 makes no mention of the issue of why Scarcella originally showed up in the investigation. 

Because of the multiple exonerations in his cases, Scarcella’s newly discovered role in the Fama investigation potentially opens the door for a 440 hearing — wherein a judge decides whether new evidence merits a new trial.

Ever since his arrest, Fama has insisted that he was among the large crowd at the murder scene but that he did not have a gun. Hawkins’ three friends with him at the scene described the shooter as six feet tall, whereas Fama is five foot eight. The only eyewitness who claimed Fama was the triggerman recanted amid the 1990 trial. 

The prosecution’s theory at trial was that Fama shot Hawkins. But after deliberating for over 10 days, the jury acquitted Fama of intentional murder and instead deemed him guilty of depraved indifference (second-degree murder). Jurors viewed him as an “active participant” and “part of the group” of three dozen people that attacked Hawkins and his friends. 

According to Justin Bonus, Scarcella was “intimately involved” in the investigation, helping steer suspicion away from Joseph Serrano, whom two witnesses had identified as the gunman (and is six feet tall). A few days after those witnesses fingered Serrano, Scarcella issued a DD-5 reporting that assailant John Vento told witness Christian Mongiello that “he saw Fama shoot the guy.” Mongiello, however, did not state that in a subsequent interview with a different detective — and his father then met with Scarcella to discuss why he had visited Mongiello’s home “on several occasions.” 

Vento testified before the grand jury against Fama, but did not take the stand at trial. Serrano and Vento received very light sentences for their involvement in Hawkins’ murder. 

Because of the multiple exonerations in his cases, Scarcella’s newly discovered role in the Fama investigation potentially opens the door for a 440 hearing — wherein a judge decides whether new evidence brought to light by a defendant’s appeals team merits a new trial. (Among other new evidence, Bonus also presents several sworn recantations from a range of key players in the case.) Should Louie take the stand, he won’t be able to deploy his “selective amnesia” routine regarding such a high-profile investigation.  Judge Dena Douglas, who previously ordered a new trial in a Scarcella case, will issue her ruling on whether the Fama case will proceed to a hearing sometime in the coming weeks.

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