The End of a Nightmare: the Exoneration of Robert McLaughlin

People v. Mclaughlin, 480 N.Y.S.2d 151 (App. Div. 1984)

Three armed robbers held up dozens of people in Marine Park on December 29, 1979. The robbers shot and killed one victim who resisted.

Robert McLaughlin, 20 years old, was charged with robbery and murder. The prosecution’s case depended entirely on one eyewitness, Robert Keefe Tobin, 15. During a photo lineup, Detective John d’Elia told Tobin that Robert McLaughlin had been arrested with one of the other robbers. But Detective d’Elia was thinking of a different Robert McLaughlin. Despite other witnesses’ testimony that McLaughlin was nowhere near the scene at the time of the robberies, and despite another eyewitness who swore McLaughlin was not one of the perpetrators, McLaughlin was convicted and sentenced to 15 years to life.

McLaughlin’s foster father, Harold Hohne, set out to exonerate him. In 1986, authorities began reinvestigating the case, and Robert Tobin’s statements were so riddled with inconsistencies that the state had to admit its error. Justice Anne G. Feldman set aside the murder conviction on July 3. Robert McLaughlin buried his head in his arms on the defendant’s table. He was free after spending 6½ years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

He’d been transferred a lot—lastly to Comstock, known as “the gladiator school” because of its prevalence for fights. McLaughlin was awarded $1.4 million for wrongful imprisonment, but neither the district attorney nor the police faced prosecution for witness tampering or perjury.