Justice delivered, but delayed: Man exonerated for Harlem murder nearly 30 years later, but still faces deportation

Mother of exonerated Wayne Gardine with Legal Aid Society lawyers following Harlem murder conviction exoneration.
Legal Aid Society attorneys with Wayne Gardine’s mother, Gracie Davis.
Photo by Isseu Diouf Campbell

Wayne Gardine spent close to 30 years behind bars for a Harlem murder he didn’t commit. He finally had his conviction exonerated Monday — yet is still not a free man.

Hours after having his name cleared, Gardine is now in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, facing deportation back to his native Jamaica.

Gardine’s murder exoneration came after the Legal Aid Society and the Manhattan DA’s Post-Conviction Unit apparently uncovered new evidence from a witness that undermined testimony from the original trial.

According to sources familiar with the incident, much of the case rested on the testimony from two teens who allegedly lied about witnessing the shooting. Only one teen testified during the original trial with the witness’s testimony changing several times over the years. 

“Wayne Gardine was just 22 years-old when he was sentenced to decades in prison following a trial that we now believe relied on an unreliable witness and testimony – losing years of freedom due to an unjust conviction,” District Attorney Alvin Bragg said. “Unjust convictions are the height of injustice and while we can never completely undo the pain he has experienced; I hope this is the first step in allowing Mr. Gardine to rebuild his life and reunite with his loved ones. I thank the Legal Aid Society for its outstanding collaboration in this matter.”

On Monday, Gardine’s nearly three decade-long battle to prove his innocence finally came to realization, when Judge Kathryn Peak officially exonerated him during a hearing at Manhattan criminal court.

Gardine thanked the Legal Aid Society for investigating and standing by him as he continued to fight the charges.

A man who has been behind bars for almost 30 years was exonerated of a 1996 murder conviction on Monday following an investigation by the Legal Aid Society and the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.

“I want to thank the whole team at Legal Aid. I also want to thank Alvin Bragg, Terri Rosenblatt, Jenna Dunton, and Daniel Altabet for their honest investigation, their respect for the truth, and for how quickly they worked on my case,” Gardine said in a statement. “I also want to thank my mom for being there all these years, and I want to thank myself for never giving up. I’m happy that the justice system finally worked.”

Following the proceedings, the Legal Aid Society held a press conference in which Gardine’s mother, Gracie Davis was overcome with emotion, weeping after her son was exonerated after spending his young adult life imprisoned.

“Every time I think of Wayne, I’m brought to tears. He lost nearly three decades of his life for a crime that he didn’t commit. ICE can end this nightmare now by immediately freeing my son,” said Davis, Wayne Gardine’s mother. “I want to thank Wayne’s legal team at Legal Aid for not giving up on him, and District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office for doing right by my son.”

Now that Gardine’s murder conviction has been overturned, the Legal Aid Society is now focused on fighting his pending deportation, and keeping him stateside with his mother.

“We are elated that Mr. Gardine will finally have his name cleared of this conviction that has haunted him for nearly three decades, yet he is still not a free man and faces additional and unwarranted punishment if deported,” said Lou Fox, Mr. Gardine’s attorney with the Wrongful Conviction Unit at The Legal Aid Society, prior to Monday’s court hearing. “We thank New York County District Attorney Alvin Bragg for joining us on this motion, and we call on ICE to immediately release our client so he can return to his family and community, and to drop deportation proceedings.”