He confessed to murder and served more than three decades behind bars, all for a crime, it turns out, he didn’t commit. The courtroom erupted in cheers Wednesday when Judge Anthony Senft overturned the decades-old conviction of Keith Bush, following a dramatic reversal by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office.
Bush hugged his lawyer and said he hoped and prayed for this day since he was 18 years old.
For 44 years, Bush maintained his innocence and on Wednesday was finally cleared in the murder and attempted rape of a teenage girl in 1975.
“Glorious,” Bush said, when asked how it felt to be free.
Bush, now 62, spent 33 years behind bars.
He was 17 and at a house party in North Bellport when police arrested him in the killing of 14-year-old Sherese Watson, who was found strangled and stabbed near the house.
Over the years, Bush and his lawyers made several attempts to get him exonerated after DNA discovered on the girl’s body proved not to be his. Only recently had new evidence come to light that Suffolk County officials coerced Bush into a false confession and did not disclose another potential murder suspect.
“We believe Keith Bush did not commit this murder,” Suffolk County DA Timothy Sini said. “We believe that John Jones is a more probable suspect.”
Authorities said that suspect is now dead, but in 1975 he admitted to being at the murder scene. That information was kept secret by police and was only discovered more than 40 years later by Bush’s attorney through Freedom of Information laws.
“He might have easily been acquitted and not gone to jail at all,” attorney Adele Bernhard said.
The Suffolk County DA’s Integrity Bureau has been investigating this case for months, but its work is still not done. The office is now taking steps to preventing this from ever happening again.
Judge Senft said he could not give Bush back what was taken from him, but could restore his presumption of innocence.
After serving his time, Bush was released from prison in 2007, but had been on lifetime parole since. Even after getting out he said he never felt free. He had to register as a high-risk sex offender, but Wednesday he was cleared.
When asked if it’s possible for him to forgive those officers, Bush said, “No, it’s not. It’s not because only what they did to me but what they did to Sherese. Had they properly investigated or done their job her family could have gone away with closure.”
Now with his name cleared, Bush is searching for his own closure. He works as a forklift operator in Connecticut and hopes to now be able to travel and begin his new life.
Officials said this is one of the longest running wrongful conviction cases in U.S. history.