When he was 18 years old, Tony Yarbough’s mother was murdered.
So was his 12-year-old sister, and her 12-year-old friend.
The grief of losing a mother and a sister to murder is unimaginable to me.
But it’s possible that what Tony Yarbough is going through now is even worse.
He’s in jail.
For the murders of his mother and his sister.
Tony Yarbough is innocent. A slight, soft-spoken young African-American man, Tony Yarbough was not given a fair trial. He wakes up and goes to sleep every night behind bars. Even though he committed no crime.
He’s being held in Attica Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in upstate New York.
Two years ago a man named Eric Barden went to see my brother, one of New York City’s top criminal defense lawyers. My brother tried to brush him off. Barden persisted, asking him simply to review the transcripts of Tony’s trial.
As he read the transcripts, my brother, Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma, started getting angry:
“What I read was astounding: Tony was convicted in 1994 of murdering his mother, his 12-year-old sister and another 12-year-old girl on the slimmest of evidence, a rehearsed, contradictory statement from his 15-year-old co-defendant who had been convicted of the same murders based on a confession he gave after hours of interrogation without an adult present. No physical evidence, no motive, no murder weapon, and no investigation of a far more believable alternative theory (Tony’s mother was a drug addict and had been threatened at knifepoint the night of the murders by a junkie she had ripped off). Worst of all, Tony’s lawyers failed to pursue the fact that the physical evidence showed the murders took place hours earlier than the co-defendant claimed, when both boys had an alibi the DA did not challenge. It did not take much more than reading the transcript to see that Tony was innocent and desperately needed legal assistance. But Eric—who turned out to be Tony’s cellmate in Attica—also gave me a letter from the co-defendant to Tony’s aunt recanting his testimony and explaining how the police set the boys up.”
My brother filed a motion to set aside the verdict for Tony last summer. The DA opposed the motion, but agreed to some limited DNA testing. In the motion papers and subsequent requests, my brother asked the judge for resources—they need a private investigator, a forensic pathologist and a crime scene expert. The court has ignored those requests. The need for a private investigator is particularly acute as my brother believes the crime can be solved and that Tony is unlikely to be freed unless the real killers are caught.
What kind of justice system is this?
Why would we start a witch hunt against an 18-year-old with no prior record, no motive for murder, and no evidence against him, and put him behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit?
I’m saddened and sickened by Tony’s story.
I’m saddened and sickened by the racism and sexual orientation discrimination that persists in this country and by the way young black men are often treated as guilty when they have done nothing wrong, as if being young, black, and male is enough of a reason for the white “justice” system to put you behind bars.
More information can be found here. Bottom line: We need to get Tony Yarbough out of Attica. We need to find the real criminals who killed his family. DA, are you listening? Stop perpetuating this cruel cover up that has robbed a young man of his freedom and his life. Reopen Tony Yarbough’s case. We have a black president. This isn’t the 1950s. Everyone in America has the right to a fair trial.