Kevin (Renny) Smith is trying to clear his name after spending 27 years in prison for the 1984 murder of Gary Van Dorn in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
A man who spent 27 years behind bars says the Brooklyn district attorney’s office has dragged its feet for four years on a review of his murder case because a veteran prosecutor helped to secure the conviction.
Kevin (Renny) Smith was found guilty by a jury of the Nov. 10, 1984, murder of Gary Van Dorn in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
The case was prosecuted by then-Assistant District Attorney Paul Burns, who relied on testimony from Vernon Richardson, the victim’s cousin and a career criminal.
Smith was released in December 2012 on parole.
One year later, the DA’s Conviction Review Unit began examining Smith’s case to determine whether he should be exonerated or get a retrial.
In 2015, Smith’s attorneys wrote the DA’s Independent Review Panel regarding an array of problems with Burns’ handling of the case, including that the prosecutor had failed to turn over portions of Richardson’s testimony to the defense.
Now, Smith has run out of patience — and blames the influence of Burns, who has climbed the ladder to become executive assistant district attorney for court operations.
“I truly believe that my case is being looked over because of the ADA Paul Burns, who is a higher-up in the office and the (Conviction Review Unit) is overlooking his misconduct,” Smith, 56, told the Daily News.
“It’s been frustrating and disturbing . . . I’m not getting a fair shake because of Paul Burns’ role in that office.”
Smith’s attorneys expect to file a motion to ask a judge to hear their case and decide whether a new trial should be ordered or to throw out the conviction in its entirety.
Their motion will also point to other examples of alleged prosecutorial misconduct by Burns.
Burns forced Richardson to testify by holding him for four days on bogus perjury charges at the 81st Precinct stationhouse, according to Smith’s former defense attorneys.
Paul Burns, the executive assistant of court operations, was Brooklyn’s Assistant DA when Smith was convicted and Smith claims that the Conviction Review Unit "is overlooking his misconduct."
Richardson testified at the trial that he knew the perjury charge would be dropped if he said what prosecutors wanted, Smith’s attorneys argue.
A second man, Calvin (Devine) Lee, was also convicted of the midnight shooting and was released on parole earlier this year after 31 years behind bars.
“Does the current administration condone this conduct in order to secure convictions?” asked Smith’s new attorney, Justin Bonus.
The Conviction Review Unit uncovered the taped interview with Richardson in 2015. It showed that Richardson did not initially implicate him.
If the tape had been disclosed prior to the trial, it “may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back of Richardson’s credibility at trial,” Lee’s attorney, Joseph Giannini, said in a sworn affidavit.
Smith insists he reluctantly admitted to the murder only to secure parole and visit his dying mother.
“I thank God I was able to see my mom, but I had to lie to get out,” said Smith as tears rolled down his cheeks.
Now the licensed chaplain and anti-violence activist is desperate to clear his name.
A resolution to the controversial case does not appear imminent. Neither prosecutors with the Conviction Review Unit nor Smith’s attorneys have even located Richardson’s case file.
The DA’s office said Smith’s case is still under review.
“DA (Eric) Gonzalez has to ask himself: Will he stand by a conviction where the only evidence involves coerced testimony from one person who was held against his will until he agreed with the unbelievable story that was fed to him?” Smith’s attorney, Ilya Novofastovsky, asked.