Imagine being sent to prison for a murder you did not commit.
For Brooklyn-native David McCallum, this nightmare was a tragic reality for 29 years.
In 1985 he and his friend, Willie Stuckey, were convicted of kidnapping, murdering, and dumping the body of 20-year-old Nathan Blenner in Aberdeen Park in Bushwick. At the time, McCallum was 16 years old. On Oct. 15, 2014, against all odds, McCallum and Stuckey were exonerated. Unfortunately, Stuckey never got to experience his freedom. He died of a heart attack in 2001 while incarcerated.
“It was a horrible miscarriage of justice,” said Oscar Michelen, McCallum’s attorney. “He should have never been convicted. There was no evidence tying David and Willie to the crime.”
Though many obstacles had to be overcome ultimately to free McCallum, according to Michelen, few were more difficult than the former Brooklyn District Attorney’s staff. It wasn’t until the election of Ken Thompson, the current Brooklyn DA, that Michelen felt he had an opening to get McCallum out. Currently, Thompson’s administration is looking into approximately 100 similar cases of dubious convictions.
In reference to McCallum’s case, Michelen said, “It was simply the worst representation I have ever seen in any case ever, period. [His attorney] made no opening statement to the jury. He didn’t cross-examine the majority of the witnesses. He misstated the evidence many times. In his very brief summation, he complimented the police, the DA and the judge.”
In short, McCallum had no advocate, until he met Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. Their relationship is at the center of a new story by “60 Minutes Sports,” which aired earlier this month on Showtime. On Dec. 9, McCallum and Michelen attended a screening of the piece at the Heights Casino on Montague Street.
“David never would have gotten out if it hadn’t been for Hurricane Carter,” said “60 Minutes” producer Sarah Koch.
For those who are unfamiliar with the late Rubin Carter, he was a famous ex-boxer from the ’60s, who also spent decades in prison for a murder he did not commit. He gained broad notoriety after the release of Bob Dylan’s classic “Hurricane” and the 1999 film “The Hurricane,” starring Denzel Washington.
The “60 Minutes” story profoundly touches on the way Carter and McCallum’s lives intersected in unexpected ways through the tragic revolving door of injustice. But in the end, it’s McCallum’s salient character that captures the viewer’s heart.
After the screening, McCallum took the time to answer some questions from the attendees. One of the more pointed questions asked was how he managed to keep such a positive attitude throughout the whole ordeal.
“The biggest teacher I had was my mom,” said McCallum. “She never gave up on me. The very first moment I got the opportunity to speak with her after I was arrested, she asked me one question. She said, ‘David, did you do this?’ I said, ‘No, mom. I did not.’ And the question never came up again. The conversation never came up again. She never doubted me. She was always there for me from the moment I was arrested until today. So once I understood my mom was in my corner, it really didn’t matter to me what other people thought, because inside I knew that I was innocent. And that was the bottom line. It allowed me to pick my head up a bit.”
During his incarceration, one of the rare times McCallum got a chance to see the world outside was when he was being transported to another corrections facility for a medical check-up. While on the bus with his other inmates, he had a chance to steal a glimpse of the world that was stolen from him.
“I would see people walking down the street,” McCallum remembered. “Moms and dads taking their children to school, people at gas stations, and those sorts of things. What it reminded me of was what I was missing, how much I was missing, just life itself. So for me, the very first thing I wanted to do when I got out, was to just walk down the street, doing nothing, because I could, because those are the sorts of things that you take for granted. And I was shocked, to tell you the truth, that I was able to get home later that day.”
McCallum’s “60 Minutes” story is currently available on demand on Showtime.