Prosecutors for the Queens District Attorney's office agreed to drop the felony murder charges against Prakash Churaman on Monday afternoon, marking the end of a nearly eight-year legal battle fought by the 22-year-old to clear his name.
During the brief hearing in front of Judge Kenneth Holder, an assistant district attorney explained that while their office still believed Churaman was guilty, a motion filed by the defense compelled them to drop five of the six charges, because of Churaman's age at the time he was first arrested. As the ADA explained it, Queens DA Melinda Katz had determined that they could no longer move forward with the case on the current charges. With those five charges gone, the sixth charge, for gun possession, was also dropped at the defense's request.
After he was told that the DA would be dropping the charges, Churaman let out a cry, shielded his mouth, and ran to the back of the courtroom.
Minutes later, Churaman broke down in tears on the courthouse steps.
"I thought I was coming here for a regular court hearing. This was the furthest thing from my mind. When [my attorney] told me, I was like, 'Did I hear this right?'” Churaman said. "I feel free. No doubt, no uncertainty, there's nothing hanging over me. I finally feel free."
"They've always known his age, they've always known the law," his attorney, Jose Nieves, said outside the courthouse. "There was too much light in this case. They knew people were asking too many questions as to why the law here was being ignored, why gamesmanship was the top priority. The district attorney, she took this as a way out."
Katz's decision to dismiss the case against Churaman comes after years of sustained public pressure, and roughly a month after Hell Gate revealed that two of the NYPD detectives central to the charges against Churaman were recently the subject of a $2 million settlement paid out by the City.
In the civil lawsuit that spurred that settlement, Detectives Daniel Gallagher and Barry Brown allegedly ignored critical and exonerating evidence in a murder investigation involving two wrongfully accused men.
The Queens DA's office did not respond to a request for comment; neither did the Detectives' Endowment Association, the union that represents Gallagher and Brown.
Churaman was first arrested in 2014, when he was 15 years old, and was charged with felony murder of 21-year-old Taquane Clark during a botched robbery attempt, which he ultimately confessed to during a lengthy interrogation. His original conviction, using a controversial "earwitness," was overturned by an appeals court in 2020, after it ruled that Judge Holder had inappropriately excluded a defense expert who would testify about the reliability of juvenile confessions. By this time, Churaman had spent years incarcerated upstate and on Rikers Island.
Rather than take a deal for time served, Churaman fought to clear his name at trial, again.
After a group of Churaman's supporters popped a bottle of champagne, Churaman announced that he was heading to Long Island City: He would finally be getting his ankle monitor removed.