Murder conviction vacated for Brooklyn man who served 23-year sentence: ‘It’s bittersweet’

Nearly 30 years after being wrongly arrested for participating in the armed robbery of a lumber yard that left a worker dead, a Brooklyn man’s murder conviction has finally been vacated.

Despite insisting on his innocence for decades, Steven Carrington, 56, served 23 years in prison after being found guilty of murder for taking part in the robbery that ended with an employee dead from gunshot wounds.

“I’m happy, but it’s bittersweet,” Carrington said after a Thursday hearing in Brooklyn Criminal Court vacating the verdict. “It took 28 years. I was sentenced to 23 to life. I did the full time and I got out, was still fighting to prove my innocence.”

He knows he cannot get the years back, but said the years moving forward will be a little easier now.

“Everything starts again,” Carrinton said. “It’s another chapter of my life I have to get accustomed to. But I’m happy that chapter is closed.”

He said he thinks often of the innocent people still behind bars.

“What happened to me should not happen to anyone,” Carrington remarked.

“There are a lot of other individuals that are incarcerated while fighting for their freedom. We need to be more mindful how we arrest people.”

His exoneration came after an investigation by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office.

“A full investigation by my Conviction Review Unit concluded that this was a case of mistaken identity, where numerous red flags were ignored both before and after Mr. Carrington’s conviction,” Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said Thursday.

Shannon France robbed Lumber Headquarters on Church Ave. in East Flatbush on Jan. 2, 1995, ordering Hugh Keizs, a customer in the store, to leave when France walked in.

Prosecutors said France struggled during the morning robbery with employee Lloyd St. George Campbell before shooting him twice, killing him.

An accomplice, identified at the time as Carrington, was said to have robbed Keizs of a pinky ring and a Seiko gold-colored watch before the customer left.

Based on the customer’s testimony, Carrington was convicted of robbery and second-degree murder for acting in concert with France.

But Keizs’ identification was never tested for reliability and should not have been used at trial, according to a new report from the Brooklyn DA’s Conviction Review Unit.

The unit has identified the likely actual accomplice from the 1995 incident and uncovered secret recordings of that man expressing regret for the incident and Carrington’s subsequent conviction.

France was arrested after Carrington in June 1995 with the help of Daily News readers after his photo appeared in a “Brooklyn’s Most Wanted” column in the paper.

France was convicted of similar charges and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. He was released in 2021 and deported, officials said.

In a 2012 affidavit and at parole hearings, France said Carrington was not involved, according to the Brooklyn DA’s office.

Carrington was released from prison in 2018.

“This case exemplifies the pitfalls of one-witness identifications,” Gonzalez said. “Mr. Carrington has proclaimed his innocence from Day One and, while we cannot undo the decades he spent in prison, today we are able to substantiate his claim and give him back his good name.”

When Carrington was first interviewed by police, he told them that his arrest was a case of mistaken identity.

At trial, he put forth an alibi defense, saying he was at home with his former girlfriend that morning when he got a call from his wife that she had taken their young child to the hospital.

She asked him to come there and he said he did. Both women, the defendant and his parents all backed Carrington’s alibi under oath but prosecutors were able to rebut the claim by showing inconsistencies in the timeline they provided.

Decades later, the Conviction Review Unit uncovered a serious problem with the identification used to pin the crime on Carrington, Gonzalez said. The traumatized customer initially gave a general description of a stocky Black man and there were questions about whether the customer saw all the photos available in a photo lineup.

“I knew that they robbed him of his ring. I remember the ring that he had, it had some significance to him,” said Hugh Keizs, the long ago victim’s brother. “If there is proof that he was the wrong person, I don’t have any problem with him getting his case overturned.”

A few years after the conviction, Carrington provided the name of a person who allegedly committed the robbery with France.

The DA’s Office investigated that claim but concluded that that person was incarcerated at the time of the crime. But Gonzalez’s review unit determined he was actually on a 14-week work release program that ended two days after the murder.

The individual was also caught on tape in a 1999 conversation with France, who was in prison. They started talking about the lumberyard.

“We messed up,” the suspect said. He told France the Seiko watch was not made of gold and said something about the pinky ring, details that were not known to the public, Gonzalez says.

In a videotape from the same year, the alternate suspect was “coaxed” into sharing details about the murder.

“I don’t feel good,” he said. “I always think about it.”

He acknowledged that the wrong man was imprisoned for the crime, Gonzalez said.

The alternate suspect was never prosecuted.

Carrington now works for Alliance for Positive Change as a testing counselor for Hepatitis C, HIV and AIDS. He is also a licensed barber who plans on opening up his own shop.

He thanked his legal team and his parents, who were with him in court.

“It was special because they have been with me since the beginning — throughout the good, throughout the incarceration, every visit, packages, food, whatever, they were there,” he said. “When you get incarcerated, not everyone stays with you, just the loved ones, the true ones.”

Carrington said he was happy to be exonerated, but noted that the better-late-than-never development didn’t shave a minute off his sentence.

“I probably would have celebrated and felt much better if they got me out when I was in prison,” he said.