Wrongful Murder Conviction in New Jersey Leads to Lawsuit

In 1985, the dead bodies of 7-year-old Tina Urquhart and her 8-year-old brother Tyrone were discovered in the basement of a rooming house in Plainfield, New Jersey.  The Urquhart siblings’ caretaker, Byron “Rock” Halsey, was arrested and charged with murder — but he didn’t commit the crime.  He was finally freed from prison when DNA evidence cleared him in 2007, but a court ruling denied him the ability to sue the Plainfield Police Department or the Union County Prosecutor’s Office.  A new ruling from a federal appeals court has overturned the previous decision, and Halsey is planning to push ahead with the suit.

“We Can Hardly Conceive a Worse Miscarriage of Justice.”

When Tina and Tyrone Urquhart were found dead in 1985, the gruesome condition of the children’s bodies led to public outrage.  Tyrone was found with four-inch nails hammered into his skull, and Tina had been choked to death after being raped.  With such terrible details, the push to find and punish the killer was strong.  It turned out to be too strong.

In a 1985 Telegraph article, Union County Prosecutor John H. Stamler called the murders “the ultimate child abuse case.”  The article states that Stamler “refused to speculate on a motive for the crime.”  He is also quoted as saying, “The death penalty itself is not the ‘cruel and unusual’ punishment which the coward who committed these murders deserves.”

Halsey was sentenced to life in prison with an additional 20 years.  He served 22 of those years before DNA evidence linked the crime to another man in 2007.  (The man who actually committed the crime, Clifton Hall, died in 2009 before a trial could take place.)

A newly liberated Halsey claimed his “confession” had been a complete fabrication by Plainfield police officers.  He tried to sue for damages, but his case was dismissed in 2013.

But now, Halsey may have another chance: an appeals court has ruled to overturn the original ruling.  In the words of Judge Morten Greenberg of the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, “We can hardly conceive of a worse miscarriage of justice.”

Attorneys Argue Halsey’s Confession “Wasn’t Made Up”

Halsey is being represented by attorney David Rudovsky.  Rudovsky says, “We have a legitimate reason to bring this before a jury because the case was based on a falsification of evidence.”

On the other side of the legal battle, the city of Plainfield is planning on fighting back.  “We are reviewing our options for our own appeal,” says Plainfield Corporation Counsel David Minchello, “and preparing the facts to present at trial.”

The original suit was dismissed after it was determined that police officers — such as Plainfield Officer Frank Pfeiffer — are immune from civil suits in cases where the officers were performing their job duties without willful and unreasonable conduct.

Halsey and his attorneys are arguing the original case hinged on a false, coerced confession.  Pfeiffer and his attorneys deny the confession was illegitimate, with lawyer Michael Simitz asserting, “It wasn’t made up.  He did so for whatever reason, whether he was involved somehow, whether he felt bad for his gross negligence that he left the children.”

The case may ultimately be settled out of court.

You can read the original 1985 article in the Telegraph here.

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