A Suffolk County judge overturned Wednesday the rape and murder conviction of a 62-year-old man who spent 33 years in prison for a crime authorities now say he did not commit.
Keith Bush’s first-degree sexual assault and second-degree murder convictions were vacated at the request of the Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini, whose investigators determined Bush could not have killed 14-year-old Sharese Watson in 1975 during a North Bellport house party.
“We believe Keith Bush did not commit this murder,” Sini told reporters during a news conference in Riverhead. “We believe that justice was done today with the exoneration of Mr. Bush’s conviction, sentence, and the dismissal of the indictment.”
In 1975, then 17-year-old Bush and Watson went to a house party, but Watson never returned home that night and her body was found two days later in an empty lot near the house. She had been the victim of attempted rape, physical assault, and murder by strangulation.
Bush was arrested and convicted by a jury in April 1976 and sentenced to 20 years to life in prison. He spent three decades in prison, all while maintaining his innocence. Bush claims that he was beaten and coerced into signing a confession written by Suffolk homicide detectives.
Bush and his attorney recently learned that the authorities at the time had another possible suspect, which was not disclosed prior to the trial in 1976. Withholding such evidence is a violation of the Brady rule, which mandates that all evidence must be turned over to the defendant in a criminal case.
The alternative suspect, then 21-year-old John W. Jones Jr., in a statement said he tripped over the dead body and left his plastic comb, which was found next to Watson.
The new-found evidence by Bush’s defense sparked an investigation by Sini’s newly created Conviction Integrity Bureau last year. Sini said this investigation entailed interviewing dozens of witnesses, reexamining all of the evidence, and obtaining new evidence.
“At the end of the day we came to some very simple conclusions,” said Sini. “We don’t believe Bush committed this murder, we believe Bush was denied a fair trial, and we believe that John Jones is a more probable suspect in this crime.”
Sini said that what brought them to this conclusion were multiple findings. One of which was the discovery of documents listing Jones as a suspect being found more than 40 years later. Jones’ statement said that he was at the party that night and had walked home to Wyandanch. He said that while walking he tripped over the victims dead body, dropped his black plastic hair pick, and never said a word to anyone.
Sini said that no witness puts Jones at the party since he was 21 and from Wyandanch, while the party was mostly younger people from Bellport. Sini also said that at the time Jones was being questioned, he was engaging in the statutory rape of another girl. Additionally, the murder weapon that Bush was accused of using to stab the victim was found to be inconsistent with the marks left on the body.
“Any prosecutor, any investigator and any person who has brain functioning is going to investigate that individual for the possible murder of Sherese Watson,” said Sini. “But instead what the detectives and the prosecutor on the case did was they washed it and they covered it up.”
Jones was arrested in April of 1975 for an unrelated crime. He died in 2006 with long criminal record, according to Sini.
Bush’s confession, which was critical at trial, was also proven false, Sini said. The confession, which Bush claims was coerced by police beatings, was proven forensically impossible by a medical review of how the murder occurred. When a former police detective was interviewed about the case in 2019, the detective alluded to using coercive tactics. The former prosecutor’s theory of how the crime was committed has also been proven false by forensic evidence.
“Because of my attorney and the current DA office… They shook up my pessimism, now I know that there are good people in the system, as well as bad,” said Bush. “I don’t hold back [my anger] I create outlets for it. The greatest outlet is love, the love of people you care about.”
Sini said his office is here to make sure justice is done in each and every case.
“We’re doing amazing work here in Suffolk County on a daily basis, creating a culture of excellence and professionalism, fighting crime, reducing crime, but none of that matters if we don’t correct injustices of the past.”