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Brooklyn Judge Sharen Hudson Ignores Evidence in Upholding Scarcella-led Murder Conviction

Jenkins could be stuck in prison until the year 2042.

Theodore Hamm May 14

Things got hectic quickly in a Brooklyn courtroom last Tuesday afternoon. After a protracted hearing that spanned more than two years, Judge Sharen Hudson rendered her decision on whether James “Wag” Jenkins’ conviction for the 1986 murder of Jaime Prieto in Crown Heights would remain intact. 

“Judge, I’ve been locked up since I was 18 for something I didn’t do!” Jenkins tearfully pleaded to no avail. 

When Hudson softly announced that she was indeed upholding the original trial verdict, many among Jenkins’ large throng of supporters in the gallery began shouting at the judge. Within a minute or two, numerous armed officers had flooded the courtroom. 

Hudson then listened impassively as Jenkins and his attorney Justin Bonus passionately denounced her decision. 

“Judge, I’ve been locked up since I was 18 for something I didn’t do!” Jenkins tearfully pleaded to no avail. 

Hudson’s written decision did not yield much clarity regarding many of the central issues in the case. But the Brooklyn DA’s appeals team got what they wanted: a ruling that upheld a conviction that revolved almost entirely around the work of notorious NYPD Detective Louis Scarcella. 

•   •   •

As The Indypendent reported, during his 2022 testimony Scarcella acknowledged problems with his handling of witness identifications in the Jenkins case. Since 2013, over 20 other convictions involving the flashy detective have been overturned.

The original trial judge, Francis X. Egitto, admonished Scarcella for cajoling key witnesses to identify Jenkins in what was essentially a one-person lineup. Egitto nonetheless allowed the case to proceed — and a few years later, he would preside over the faulty Scarcella-initiated conviction of David Ranta. 

Disgraced former NYPD Police Detective Louis Scarcella.

While deeming Scarcella’s handling of the identifications of Jenkins to be “egregious to say the least,” Hudson nonetheless argued that Jenkins’ conviction should stand because she did not find the recantations of two eyewitnesses to be credible. 

Hudson’s ruling did not address Jenkins’ contention that the prosecution withheld potentially exculpatory evidence, including Scarcella’s memo book, which listed the names of at least two other suspects, including a different person named “Jimmy Jenkins.” Moreover, Hudson ignored Jenkins’ arguments regarding Scarcella’s lead witness, Nathan Torres. 

Just prior to Jenkins’ indictment, Scarcella was the arresting officer in an incident in which Torres shot another man in the face. During his August 2023 hearing testimony, former Brooklyn prosecutor Kevin Bristow, who handled Jenkins’ grand jury and trial, stated that he “was not aware at any time during the trial” that Scarcella had collared Torres. 

In his written summation after the hearing, Jenkins’ attorney Justin Bonus foregrounded Torres’ pivotal role and Bristow’s testimony, arguing that the prosecution’s failure to disclose exculpatory evidence (aka Brady material) deprived Jenkins of a fair trial. Hudson, however, simply dismissed these essential points as “without merit,” providing no further explanation. 

“It is unusual, surprising and very troubling that Judge Hudson failed to address the Brady claims,” says Pace Law School professor Bennett Gershman. “The papers filed by the defendant presented claims that to me have considerable merit, and certainly merited careful and responsible attention by the judge.” 

•   •   •

There is another glaring omission in Hudson’s ruling. Although she found fault with the testimony of two recanting witnesses (both friends of the murder victim), Hudson offered no comparable assessment of Scarcella’s veracity. 

The judge argued that Jenkins’ 1987 conviction should stand because she did not find the recantations of two eyewitnesses to be credible.

During his 2022 testimony Scarcella alternated between remembering some very specific aspects of the case and not remembering others. That uneven pattern has caused several Brooklyn judges to reject his credibility and overturn Scarcella-connected convictions. 

In her decision, Hudson opted not to address the truthfulness of Scarcella’s statements, accepting them at face value. The Brooklyn DA’s team also did not question the detective’s key claims. 

Jaime Prieto was murdered in mid-October of 1986. Scarcella’s memo book shows that he immediately investigated the case, and quickly viewed Jenkins as the culprit. But he did not arrest Jenkins until late March of 1987. 

In their post-hearing summation, the DA’s team presents Scarcella’s recent explanation of the time-lag — “I couldn’t find [Jenkins]” — as truthful. Yet Jenkins lived just a few blocks away from the murder scene. 

As noted above, Scarcella arrested Nathan Torres for a separate attempted murder shortly before collaring Jenkins. Facing potential prosecution, Torres then told a grand jury that he saw Jenkins kill Prieto. Judge Hudson, however, did not express any concerns regarding Scarcella’s explanation of the arrest timeline. Justin Bonus says he will ask the Appellate Division to allow him to appeal Hudson’s decision. As a result of Judge Egitto’s harsh original sentence, Jenkins is not eligible for parole until 2042.

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