• BREAKING NEWS Shelter in place lifted after prisoner captured

2 wrongfully convicted in Brooklyn murder free 21 years later

Josh Einiger has the story of two men tasting their first freedom in decades
February 7, 2014 5:58:02 AM PST
There is vindication for two men who spent 21 years in prison for a brutal triple murder they say they didn't commit.

Now, a new life begins for Tony Yarbough and Shariff Wilson, who were just teenagers when they were convicted of murdering Yarbough's own mother and sister, as well as the sister's friend.

For the first time in their adult lives Friday, they are waking up in their homes instead of a prison cell.

They were freed after a judge overturned their convictions, which came at the ages of 15 (Wilson) and 18 (Yarbough) after they were arrested back in 1992 in the grisly triple murder in Coney Island.

"I don't even know how to describe it," Yarbough said. "I'm overwhelmed right now. I'm so grateful."

The pair took their first steps as free men Thursday after the handcuffs were ordered off while family members cried and cheered.

"I just want to thank my lawyer and everybody that believed in me that I didn't do this crime," Wilson said.

On Thursday, Wilson celebrated a night of firsts -- the first black cherry soda, the first slice of pizza, the first chance to use a fork without looking over his shoulder.

"Upstate when they feed you, they give you a metal fork, but you have to turn it in before you leave," he said. "If not, they'll put you in a box."

The Brooklyn District Attorney's Office asked that the murder convictions be vacated against both men. Mom Annie Yarbough, 12-year-old sister Chavonn Barnes and her 12-year-old friend Latasha Knox were found inside a Coney Island project, stabbed and strangled, more than two decades ago. Tony Yarbough and Wilson had been out in the West Village when the killings took place and returned home to find the bodies.

Lawyers have argued for years that there was never any physical evidence linking the men to the killings and the only evidence against Tony was Shariff's confession, which he recanted in 2005. He claimed police coerced him, and he has passed several polygraph tests since.

The game changer in the case came last summer, when the city's medical examiner revealed that the DNA found under Annie Yarbrough's fingernails matched evidence found in the 1999 killing of Migdalia Ruiz, who was found raped and stabbed to death in the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn. That murder happened while Tony and Shariff were already in jail, meaning the real killer had struck again and was still on the loose.

"There were a number of factors that led to the innocence of both of these guys," Yarbough's lawyer Philip Smallman said. "The DNA, I think, in many ways, is just the icing on the cake.

Family members reacted with joy and were overcome with emotion when the men were unshackled and set free.

"I'm just so excited," mom Gloria Wilson said. "I don't know how to act. He's like a new toy to me. That's my gift back to me."

Tony Yarbough was arrested so quickly after the crime that he doesn't even know where his relatives are buried. Thursday though, he had nothing but relief and heartfelt gratitude.

"I got Jesus in my life, there's no time for bitterness," he said. "I'm going to live my life to the best of my ability right now."

Tony initially received the maximum sentence of 75 years to life behind bars.

The real killer has never been caught or identified.

"It's pretty clear that somebody is responsible for four bodies and still hasn't apparently been taken to justice for those acts," Smallman said. "This case is a perfect storm of everything that can go bad in a criminal case."

The world is a very different place now, and Wilson says he is trying to decide whether to get an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy.


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