But the case was reopened by District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. in 2012, and Pedro Hernandez, a former bodega stock clerk who confessed to luring Etan into a basement and attacking him, was found guilty in 2017 of kidnapping and murdering the boy. Mr. Hernandez, 56, who had lived in New Jersey for years, was traced through a tip from his brother-in-law. He was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Mr. Morgenthau lost about a quarter of his cases, and some that he won proved to be miscarriages of justice. The most glaring example was the conviction of five young black and Latino men from Harlem, four of whom falsely confessed on videotape to the 1989 beating and rape of the 28-year-old investment banker who became known as the Central Park Jogger.
After serving terms of 7½ to 13 years, the five were exonerated in 2002 after an imprisoned serial rapist and murderer, Matias Reyes, confessed to the crime. Mr. Morgenthau ordered a new investigation, including DNA tests that confirmed the Reyes account, and moved to clear the men in court.
“If only we had DNA 13 years ago,” Mr. Morgenthau lamented.
“I think it was his finest hour,” said Barry Scheck, a founding director of the Innocence Project of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, which promotes the use of DNA to reverse wrongful convictions. “Very few D.A.s would have done that, but he could with his stature, self-confidence, guts and commitment to principle. In that and other cases I’ve seen, I believe he has asked, ‘Is this the right thing to do?’ ”
Mr. Morgenthau was probably the most innovative prosecutor in the city’s history. To pursue financial crimes, he hired scores of accountants and detectives with financial expertise. He promoted DNA testing and other modern investigating techniques. Enlarging the homicide bureau and other units, he hired Spanish-speaking interpreters and hundreds of black, Hispanic and female prosecutors, and he created the office’s first sex-crimes and consumer affairs units.
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