I’ve written a lot about my friend Tony, who has spent his entire adult life in a maximum security prison for a crime most everyone — except apparently a New York District Attorney — believes he didn’t commit.
Here’s the latest from a New York Daily News columnist:
Tony Yarbough looks like yet another man wrongfully convicted in Brooklyn.I spoke to Yarbough, 39, recently on the phone from Attica, where he is imprisoned for a 1992 triple homicide in the Coney Island projects. He has been behind bars for 21 years.“Did you stab and strangle your mother, Annie Yarbough, to death on June 18, 1992?” I asked.“Absolutely not,” Yarbough said. “I loved my mom.”“Did you murder your half-sister, Chavonn Barnes, who was 12, that same day?”Yarbough said, “No, I absolutely did not.”
The other man in the case was a boy of 15 when he was sent to prison. He is doing nine years to life after a coerced confession. The amazing toll these convictions and what the New York Times has reported to be more than five dozen other cases under review is unfathomable. The years lost. Why? Because a system that ran amok for years and nobody cared to stop them. A single retired dectective, Louis Scarcella, is central to these cases, but the entire system failed to care about the crucial element of truth. By all appearances they knowing broke the laws. Yet they didn’t go to prison. Instead they collect a pension every month.
And Tony? He keeps going to court, hopes high, and being sent back to prison to do still more time while the wheels of “justice” take their sweet time to turn for him. He lives with the emotional toll of hope, once lost, now delayed. Few could ever grasp it. I’ve been in courts and waited for phone calls that I thought would be my release only to lose. But I faced months more, not my entire life. I can barely grasp what this is doing to Tony.
He had hoped to be freed on Jan. 7. Another court date came and went. He’s still at Attica. He still waits despite having no family, no life, nothing in this world save this: freedom. He and I have written about this. It starts with freedom. The rest he’ll figure out as he goes. It will be an enormous challenge. But its one he deserves to get started on. It’s 21 years overdue.
This system is broken. It has been for a long time. Folks want desperately to believe in the accuracy of our system and the good will of those empowered to enact it. So much proof now exists that despite many, many well-intended, moral, professional people, the system as a whole is simply not working.
We can do better, we just haven’t mobilized as a society to do it. That’s changing. The political will, the public will, the much needed tipping point is coming.
All that’s needed is for more people to pay attention and demand a better way. We can do that. We really can.