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After Two Decades in Prison, Exonerated Man Still Held at Rikers by Ankle

Kareem Mayo should be happily back home with his grandkids right now but administrative delays over leg-monitor paperwork have him stewing in Rikers.

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Kareem Mayo had his murder conviction vacated on Jan. 23, 2023.

Courtesy of Mayo Family

When a Brooklyn judge tossed Kareem Mayo’s 23-year-old murder conviction last week, Mayo was elated. 

His lawyers had successfully argued that the sole eyewitness who claimed to have seen the murder lied about not needing to wear glasses to see far distances. 

But Mayo, 48, remains locked up inside the Anna M. Kross Center on Rikers Island a week after the decision by Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Dena Douglas. 

He’s waiting to be fitted with an ankle monitor which he’s required to wear as Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez weighs his options to either appeal the judge’s decision, drop the charges, or completely retry the case. 

“It doesn’t make sense to me,” Mayo told THE CITY during a jailhouse phone interview on Friday. “They are still playing hardball. I got 23 years in. What more do they want?” 

Mayo’s extended stay behind city bars comes weeks after Correction Commissioner Louis Molina told the City Council that he expects the jail population to rise to 7,000 this year. 

There were 5,965 people locked across all city jails up as of Thursday, according to Department of Correction records

“I’m just astonished that we are keeping people in Rikers when the court says they don’t belong there because of the bureaucratic problems,” said Mayo’s defense lawyer, Ron Kuby. 

“Now, we all kind of agree that Rikers is a hellhole in which no person should be forced to endure,” he added. 

Critics contend that Molina — and Mayor Eric Adams — should do more to reduce the jail population. That includes releasing people like Mayo faster. 

The court-ordered ankle monitors are installed by city sheriffs who are overseen by the city’s Department of Finance. That agency is primarily responsible for tax assessments and collections — as well as boots on delinquent vehicles. 

Kuby said a sheriff representative estimated it would take about a month before Mayo is released. Mayo has a video conference scheduled for Monday to go over basic information with a sheriff like where he plans to live when he gets out. 

But that meeting is just the first step in the process, according to Kuby, who noted the ankle monitoring device is given to people for free.

“Like most things that are given to people by the city, it is adjacent to a system that is utterly broken, dysfunctional, indifferent, and uncaring,” he said. 

City jail and finance officials refused to say how many other people are currently on Rikers waiting for ankle monitors. They also ignored questions about why it is taking so long to fit Mayo with one. 

The ankle monitors must be worn all day and people ordered to be supervised that way must first contact a member of the sheriff’s office if they take it off for some reason. 

They are largely used to allow people to remain out of jail while their cases are pending. Additionally, they are seen as a more cost effective way to keep tabs on accused criminals as opposed to having them put in jail where it costs $1,525 to house someone in jail for a day, according to a December 2021 report by former city Comptroller Scott Stringer. 

On Saturday, Mayo finished his 23rd year locked up since he was originally convicted for the murder of Reuben Scrubb — a crime he has always said he didn’t commit. 

His co-defendant, Donnell Perkins, who was 17 years old at the time of his arrest, had already been released on parole in 2021. 

Short Sighted

The two filed a so-called 440 motion in 2021, arguing that the only eyewitness, Ernest Brown, lied about needing eyeglasses. 

At the original trial, Brown told the court he saw Perkins order Mayo to shoot Scrubb on Dec. 25, 1999 at a gas station at the intersection of Atlantic and Grand avenues, court records show. 

He also testified that he was farsighted and only needed glasses for reading. 

But, in a subsequent investigation, his ex-wife said he wore eyeglasses all the time and his DMV records indicated that he struggled to see things further away, according to the 440 legal filing. 

“Defendants’ convictions rested largely upon the testimony of Brown, the only eyewitness to the underlying incident and the only individual to identify defendants,” Douglas wrote. “Neither a weapon nor any other evidence was recovered inculpating defendants for this crime.”

Mayo, who was sentenced to 25 years to life in 2001, has long said he was visiting his family in Virginia when the fatal shooting occurred. 

“I never took anyone’s life,” Mayo told THE CITY. “That ain’t me. I would never take someone’s life because I love life.” 

Correction Department buses sit on the north side of Rikers Island.

Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

Both his parents passed while he’s been locked up and nine grandchildren have been born.  

Mayo was overjoyed by Douglas’ decision to vacate the conviction but he’s struggling to understand why he’s still locked up.

“I wanted to jump up and kiss her but they wouldn’t let me do it,” he said. “I wanted to say thank you and plead my case to not get an ankle bracelet. I’ve got a newborn granddaughter. I’m not a flight risk or threat.”

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