‘The killers are still out there’: Family heartbroken after murder conviction overturned

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NEW YORK (PIX11) -- For almost three decades, Deborah Blenner and her family held onto what they thought was a simple truth: David McCallum was guilty.

After all, it was former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes’ office -- and a jury -- who essentially allowed the Blenners to believe McCallum was one of two teenagers responsible for what happened to her brother, Nathan, in October 1985.

“Nathan was a great guy. He died young -- 20 years old. He was abducted and carjacked, and robbed, and murdered 29 years ago,” Deborah said.

McCallum and William Stuckey, who died years ago in prison, allegedly responsible for one of the nearly 1,400 slayings that year in New York City, blamed each other under police questioning.

After their trial and guilty verdict, they were sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

“We felt that justice was served. Justice was done and because that’s what we were told, and that’s what 12 jurors [saw] - the same information, they’re seeing. It was a relief. And we tried to pick up the pieces, and move on,” Deborah said.

But what a jury saw all those years ago is now history because last week, Hynes’ successor, newly elected Brooklyn D.A. Kenneth Thompson, and his office’s Conviction Review Unit, overturned McCallum’s conviction.

“I think that we have a very fair conviction review process in the Brooklyn DA’s office. Everyone is not being let out. Out of all of the cases that I’ve reviewed so far, the majority of cases, we’re standing by the convictions in those case,” Thompson said.

The unit cited what it called “false, fed evidence" and coerced confessions from McCallum and Stuckey. They were 16 years old at the time.

“I was led to believe -- by you, 29 years ago -- that the killers were Willie Stuckey and David McCallum. Ad now you’re telling me something different,” Deborah said.

So after spending two-thirds of his life behind bars, McCallum, now in his 40s, walked away a free man.

“Nobody wants an innocent man to go to jail. Nobody wants that. But what we do want, is what he says, is justice,” said Deborah.

But as Deborah sat in the courtroom -- a "helpless bystander" as she put it -- she says she felt like someone sucked the air right out of the room.

“I want the ability to have transparency so that I can see how you came to that conclusion. So I can believe it myself - and get closure. We were just left out. And when the decision was already made, we were just told of the decision. And they explained to me that that is correct - that victim’s families have no rights. They’ve said that to me,” Deborah said.

Deborah says her family now feels like an unfortunate afterthought, missing from this complicated equation, the same way Nathan Blenner’s own photo doesn’t even turn up on a simple Google image search.

This story, Deborah says, is not just about McCallum and his overturned conviction.

“It’s very disturbing that it’s right around the anniversary, and it is also a special day for my mother,” said Deborah.

Bittersweet, or even tragic might be the more appropriate word. Because Oct. 21, the 29th anniversary of Nathan Blenner’s murder, is also his mother’s birthday.

Just as troubling, Deborah and her family are back at square one in seeking justice for her brother Nathan.

“In the end, the statement is the killers are still out there. That’s how you leave the room,” Deborah said.

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