David McCallum has a plethora of loyal advocates certain of his innocence, a pro bono legal team that has been working on his behalf for a decade, a supportive family that never has stopped believing in him and a district attorney who is willing to listen and even agreed to post-conviction DNA testing.
What McCallum lacks is perhaps the one and only thing that could clear his name after 28 years: evidence that someone else committed a murder.
Recent DNA testing approved by Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes links two other individuals to the crime scene, but cannot show that McCallum was not there. So Inmate No. 86-B-2336 remains in prison on the strength of a confession he made when he was 16 and immediately recanted, claiming a detective had beaten him into implicating himself and another teen.
"Procedurally, we are stuck," said Oscar Michelen, of counsel to Cuomo LLC who has been working pro bono on McCallum's case for nine years and says he is "100 percent sure" McCallum had nothing to do with the 1985 murder of 20-year-old Nathan Blenner. "We need new evidence. We need to find something that either establishes who did it or definitively establishes that David did not do it."
Michelen became McCallum's advocate after his pro bono efforts exonerated defendants in two other cases, and he caught the attention of Ruben "Hurricane" Carter.
Carter, a former professional boxer, emerged as an international advocate for the wrongly convicted after his own conviction for a triple homicide was overturned in the mid-1980s. He was the inspiration for Bob Dylan's song "Hurricane" and the 1999 film "The Hurricane," starring Denzel Washington.
"You don't say no to Ruben Carter, and that was nine years ago," said Michelen, who is still trying to establish McCallum's innocence.
In the meantime, McCallum's hopes lie with a parole board that, despite his pristine institutional record, has denied him release three times at least in part because he refuses to accept responsibility for a crime he insists he did not commit. He is slated to make another appearance before the parole board this spring.
"If you look at the prison records and the arc of his life, he is a person who should be released, regardless of the outcome of the innocence litigation," said Laura Cohen, clinical legal professor at Rutgers Law School who, along with her students, is handling the parole aspect of McCallum's case. "He has done everything the system has asked of him. He has been a leader in various rehabilitation groups. He has maintained a spotless disciplinary record, a stunningly good record."
Yet, following McCallum's last parole interview in June, the panel said he was self-centered and that his release would jeopardize public safety, notwithstanding the fact that the board's own risk assessment placed him at lowest risk of re-offending, getting arrested or absconding.