In December 1982, four armed men burst into a bodega in Brooklyn serving as a front for marijuana dealing and ordered two men working inside to hand over drugs.
The men then shot the clerks, killing one of them, Jairam Gangaram, a 32-year-old father of four girls. The other clerk, Edward McClean, was shot in the stomach but survived.
Five years later, a jury convicted Detroy Livingston of second degree murder following the testimony of a troubled young woman with an addiction to crack cocaine who claimed to be at the scene. Mr. Livingston, who had rejected a plea deal that would have set him free within 12 years, was sentenced to 25 years to life. He spent 35 years in prison and never stopped insisting he was innocent.
On Friday, prosecutors from the office of the Brooklyn district attorney, Eric Gonzalez, agreed that Mr. Livingston’s conviction should be vacated and the charges against him dismissed. They had come to that decision after an unusual request from one of Mr. Gangaram’s daughters, Karen Dannett, who began researching the case in 2000. She was 10 years old when her father died.
Ms. Dannett said she began collecting every document she could find about the killing, hoping her research would bring her a sense of solace. Instead, she was horrified to discover the thinness of the evidence in the case and began to fear the wrong man had been imprisoned.
On Friday morning, Ms. Dannett, 51, who lives in Georgia, appeared on a live screen in Brooklyn Supreme Court, where Judge Matthew D’Emic agreed to dismiss the case against Mr. Livingston.
“I’m sorry he suffered so long,” Ms. Dannett said. “I can only pray his later days are better days.”
Mr. Livingston, 59, who was paroled in 2021, said he was relieved and grateful to have his record cleared of the conviction.
“I knew it would come,” he said.
Mr. Livingston’s case was the 36th one vacated since 2014 by the conviction review unit, a team of prosecutors within the Brooklyn district attorney’s office tasked with examining convictions. The unit has reopened about 40 other potentially mishandled cases — the vast majority of them murder convictions.
Charles Linehan, chief of the review unit, told Judge D’Emic that the case against Mr. Livingston had rested on the word of Tracey Evans, 19 years old at the time, who made numerous conflicting statements to the police and did not tell investigators about her drug addiction, which had affected her memory.
Prosecutors in the review unit analyzed the witness statements and found that the case was “irreparably flawed” with “glaring discrepancies” and “critical failures,” Mr. Linehan said.
“Almost 35 years later we don’t have any confidence in the integrity of the conviction,” he said.
In 1982, the detectives working on the case heard from Ms. Evans less than two weeks after the murder. She said she had seen three men shoot a man inside the bodega and identified them, though she did not name Mr. Livingston.
One of the men she identified, Dwayne Cook, later pleaded guilty to robbery in the first degree in exchange for a three- to nine-year sentence if he testified against Mr. Livingston. Mr. Cook later reneged and did not testify. None of the other men Ms. Evans identified were charged with the shootings.
The surviving clerk, Mr. McLean, told the police he never got a clear look at the shooter, who wore a stocking over his face.
Over the next four years, Ms. Evans repeatedly changed her story. In one version, she identified Mr. Livingston, whom she said she met through Mr. Cook, as one of four men who had gone inside the bodega. In July 1986, Mr. Livingston was arrested.
Mr. Livingston, who claimed he had not heard about the killing until he was charged with it, said he did not know Ms. Evans and doubted he had ever stepped inside the bodega.
“I don’t know nothing about this,” Mr. Livingston said at his sentencing in 1987. “They found me guilty, and I can’t say nothing else.”
Ms. Dannett said that for years after Mr. Gangaram’s death, his mother remained haunted by the case and cried constantly.
In either 2012 or 2013, Ms. Dannett said, she sent a letter to Mr. Livingston and waited for his reply, worrying he would be “embittered and angry.”
Instead, he wrote back, expressing optimism and gratitude for her willingness to question the case.
“He always had a positive attitude,” Ms. Dannett said. “His motto was: ‘I’m in it to win it.’”
After the hearing, Mr. Livingston waved at Ms. Dannett, who looked back at him with tears in her eyes.
When he stepped out in the hallway, a woman approached and asked if he had just been exonerated.
She was there to support her husband, she said, who was seeking to overturn his own conviction.
“Don’t give up,” Mr. Livingston said.