New York Daily News


Grandson reaches out to men exonerated in Times Sq. slay


Days after Eric Smokes and David Warren were finally vindicated in their battle to prove they didn’t kill a French tourist in Times Square nearly four decades ago, the victim’s grandson sent their lawyer a letter saying he’d like to talk with them.

Smokes, 56, and Warren, 53, didn’t know what to expect and even feared a conversati­on filled with rancor and rage from a man not much younger than them and still reeling from the trauma of his grandfathe­r’s murder.

Instead, Olivier Alary, 48, floored them with his kind words, lamenting over the phone their years lost to prison and telling them their plight would undoubtedl­y inspire others behind bars who are determined to prove their innocence.

“What they’ve done is along the lines of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. — fighting for their rights,” Alary told the

Daily News. “I found what they did very powerful and meaningful.”

Neither Smokes nor Warren had previously seen themselves in that light.

“I really had to look at [me] and David and look closer at what we went through,” Smokes told The News. “When you’re in the middle of that struggle you don’t look at it and think how inspiring it can be to somebody.”

Warren agreed.

“When you’re in the fight you can’t see nothing but the fight,” he said. “You sort of have blinders on.”

Alary was 12 years old when his grandfathe­r, Jean Casse, a 71-year-old insurance agent visiting the city with his wife and friends for the first time, was killed on New Year’s Day 1987.

Minutes after the ball dropped in Times Square to ring in the new year, Casse was punched out in front of Ben Benson’s steakhouse on W. 52nd St. He crumpled to the ground, struck his head on the concrete and died at a hospital later that day.

His wife was not hurt.

The case made headlines and police encouraged witnesses to come forward.

Seven days after the death, Smokes, then 19, and Warren, then 16 — childhood pals from East New York, Brooklyn — were busted for murder.

Their arrests were based on eyewitness accounts, including from the star witness, a 16-year-old who had been arrested for an unrelated mugging and told an NYPD detective he had done robberies with Smokes and Warren and that Smokes told him he’d “caught a body” in Times Square.

From the start, Smokes and Warren gave the same story: They had taken the subway to Times Square and went to the Latin Quarter on W. 48th St. Short of money to get into the trendy hotspot, they headed south, then went home.

Both were convicted of murder, anyway. But while in prison, Smokes got an apology letter from the star witness, who said he had been pressured to identify him and Warren as the killers.

Warren was released from prison in 2007, Smokes four years later.

They fought from then on to vacate their conviction­s, with their lawyers arguing that the case was built on testimony from witnesses manipulate­d and threatened with arrest by NYPD detectives and prosecutor­s from the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

In 202, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Stephen Antignani denied their motion to vacate the conviction­s.

But as an appeal was being prepared, the postconvic­tion justice unit formed under DA Alvin Bragg took another look at the case. In October, prosecutor­s told the judge DA’s office is “prepared to concede … that there is newly discovered evidence that creates a reasonable probabilit­y of a more favorable outcome.”

The evidence includes photos that had been misplaced; leads that pointed to other suspects and had not been turned over to defense lawyers as required; statements

from two witnesses, and notes suggesting another witness was directed to pick out Warren’s name and photo from a set of possible suspects.

On Jan. 31, Smokes and Warren were cleared, Antignani telling them they were free to go as “innocent men.”

At that point, Alary, who had followed their plight from afar — he lives with his wife and two sons in Montreal, where he is a film composer — sent his letter to lawyer James Henning.

Alary said in a phone interview that his family, including his late grandmothe­r, kept their grief bottled up through the years, tending not to talk about the murder.

But he said it was important that Smokes and Warren knew that the only anger he and his family feel is toward a criminal justice system that time and again has wrongly imprisoned Black men.

“Whatever it means to them, I’m on their side — and I believe them, I believe in their innocence and I wish them the best in this fight,” Alary said. “They were surprised that I said that to them. They thought [my family] would be angry. No.

“For me, it’s a tragedy that they had to pay for a crime they did not commit,” he added.

Alary also said that while it would be satisfying if the real killers were arrested and convicted, he doubts that will ever happen.

Indeed, after meeting with the NYPD, the DA’s office decided it would not reinvestig­ate the case. A police source said the conflictin­g eyewitness account — while instrument­al in vindicatin­g Smokes and Warren — would make it impossible to get a conviction unless someone stepped forward and confessed.

Smokes and Warren said that while they are generally private people, they see a future in which they help others fight like they did to clear their names.

“This is my legacy,” Warren said. “So I can see myself advocating for other people.”

 ?? PHOTO BY ASTRID STAWIARZ/GETTY IMAGES ?? Eric Smokes (below left) and David Warren served years in prison for New Year’s Day 1987 killing of French tourist Jean Casse. Now Casse’s grandson Olivier Alary (photo left with family) has contacted them and lamented the years the wrongly convicted men lost to prison.
PHOTO BY ASTRID STAWIARZ/GETTY IMAGES Eric Smokes (below left) and David Warren served years in prison for New Year’s Day 1987 killing of French tourist Jean Casse. Now Casse’s grandson Olivier Alary (photo left with family) has contacted them and lamented the years the wrongly convicted men lost to prison.
 ?? ??
 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States