Keith Bush as he leaves Suffolk County Court in Riverhead...

Keith Bush as he leaves Suffolk County Court in Riverhead after murder charges against him were vacated on May 22, 2019. Credit: James Carbone

A Suffolk legislative committee on Thursday approved a $16 million settlement agreement with Keith Bush, who spent 33 years in prison for a 1975 North Bellport murder he did not commit.

The Ways and Means Committee approved the settlement unanimously in executive session, said Legis. Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac), committee chairwoman. The full Suffolk County Legislature still must vote on the bonding to pay for the agreement.

Legislators did not provide any more information about the agreement.

County Executive Steve Bellone's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday afternoon, as officials dealt with the aftermath of tropical depression Ida.

Bush's attorney, Adele Bernard, declined to comment, saying Suffolk officials were planning to hold a news conference about the settlement Friday.

Court records do not include a stipulation of settlement, although the legislature typically must approve the agreement before it is filed publicly in court.

Bush was a 17-year-old junior at Bellport High School when Suffolk authorities charged him with murdering fellow student Sherese Watson after a late-night neighborhood party.

Bush said he was beaten into a confession by authorities.

Bush, who was later cleared of the crime by DNA and other forensic evidence, was released on parole in 2007 and spent another decade trying to clear his name.

In 2019, a Suffolk judge dropped all charges against Bush, then 62, in one of the longest-running "innocent man" cases in U.S. history.

The judge's move came after a yearlong probe by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Bureau concluded that Bush had been wrongly convicted.

Another potential suspect, now deceased, was known to authorities but not revealed at Bush’s 1976 trial.

The crime remains unsolved.

Bush sued the county in state court in November 2019 for false arrest, malicious prosecution and other alleged wrongdoing by law enforcement authorities. Less than a year later, he filed a federal lawsuit.


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