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Conviction thrown out for Brooklyn man who spent nearly 2 decades in prison

Emel McDowell pleaded guilty to manslaughter in 2009 in exchange for his freedom.

Adolfo Carrion

Mar 17, 2023, 12:14 AM

Updated 490 days ago

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A Brooklyn man who served nearly 20 years in prison for a murder he says he did not commit saw his conviction thrown out on Thursday.  
For Emel McDowell, he has been waiting for his justice for decades.  
“It was a lot of prayer, and believing that at some point it would have to be corrected,” said McDowell. “I didn’t know when, I didn’t know how, but I had to stick with it.” 
McDowell is now a free man after Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez filed a motion to vacate the murder conviction that put him in jail for 19 years.  
McDowell was a high school senior when he was convicted of killing Jonathan Powell at a party in a Bed-Stuy community center in 1990. He was sentenced to 22 years to life in prison, despite evidence and witness testimony pointing to his friend as the shooter.  
After spending nearly 20 years in prison, he took a deal in 2009 and pleaded guilty to manslaughter in exchange for a near-immediate release.  
“Just because I took a plea doesn’t mean I did it,” said McDowell. “I wouldn’t have been surprised if I spent my life in prison, so I had to do what was best for me at that point and move on.” 
The Brooklyn DA’s conviction review unit reinvestigated the case shortly after and found enough evidence to prove that McDowell was not the gunman. They say evidence pointed to McDowell’s friend and that police did not properly investigate the case.  
The DA’s office says it has referred the case back to the homicide bureau to determine if criminal action can be taken against McDowell’s friend.  
McDowell says he’s currently eyeing law school and that he will work to advocate for others who have been wrongfully convicted. 


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