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Keith Bush: I can't forgive those who put me in prison

Keith Bush inside Judge Anthony Senft's courtroom at

Keith Bush inside Judge Anthony Senft's courtroom at Suffolk County Court in Riverhead after murder charges against him were vacated on Wednesday. Credit: James Carbone

For all the calmness of his demeanor and the softness of his voice Wednesday, Keith Bush said he is not a forgiving man.

He does not forgive the Suffolk police detectives who, he said, used the N-word while beating him into making a confession in the murder of a young woman in Bellport in the 1970s, rather than doing their job — which was running down leads that pointed to another potential suspect.

He does not forgive Suffolk prosecutors, who ignored those leads — and withheld them, along with other information, from Bush’s defense lawyer — during trial.  

There can be no forgiveness, he said, because of the pain his family suffered.

Especially, he said, his mother.

There can be no forgiveness, Bush said in an interview, because of the pain still suffered by the family of Sherese Watson, who was killed at age 14 after a late-night house party in North Bellport.

“There is no closure for her family,” Bush said after Judge Anthony Senft vacated his conviction in Watson’s 1975 murder.

Bush was standing in the library of the Suffolk district attorney’s office in Riverhead, two floors up from where Senft, some 60 minutes earlier, had apologized to Bush, who had been fighting for 44 years to prove his innocence.

Thirty-three years of that had been in prison.

Bush could have gained parole earlier, Suffolk District Attorney Timothy Sini pointed out.

But he maintained his innocence, rather than say he was guilty.

“He said he was not going to let them do to him as a man what they did to him as a child,” Sini said.

When Bush was released from prison, young family members would say later as they waited outside the courthouse for Bush to finish up some paperwork, it was as if Bush had emerged from the Stone Age.

“He was, like, ‘The TV can do that?’  ” one young woman said, referring to Bush’s reaction to how markedly technology had evolved during his time in prison.

“Yeah,” another agreed, with a gentle laugh at the memory, “he was a caveman.”

But for the family, the judge’s action in wiping the slate clean — which included taking Bush off a sex-offender registry — had other ramifications.

“There are a lot of kids in the family, and he wasn’t supposed to be around them,” a relative said. “That’s all gone now.”  

For almost an hour, after family members moved from the courtroom to the library to listen to a news conference, Sini outlined what his office had discovered during an examination of Bush’s case.

Those findings were included in a joint application with Bush’s attorney to have his indictment and conviction vacated.

Sini apologized, as friends and several members of Bush’s family recorded the news conference on their cell phones.

Sometimes Bush’s supporters applauded. Sometimes, as Sini recounted evidence lost, inconsistencies in evidence and testimony ignored, there were expressions of disbelief.

But most often, there were expressions of thanks.

At one point, Bush was asked whether he ever gave up hope.

No, he said. From the audience, his fiancée agreed, with a slow nod of her head.  

Bush said he has never returned to the community where the young woman was killed.

And, Bush said, he fought successfully to serve out his probation in Connecticut, where his mother and other family members live, rather than in Suffolk.

At one point, Bush was asked whether he would ever move back to Suffolk, where some family still live, in Coram and in Bellport.

The answer came quickly.

“No,” he said.

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