The other day, this Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney reminded a judge that my client had only me in his battle against all of the forces and vast resources of the government.
The judge made some complimentary comments about how well represented my client was. Still, I’m always surprised when the government thinks the defendant has an advantage.
Then you are reminded of just how uphill the battle for justice is for the accused.
On a cold January day in 1992, a tow truck pulled into a parking lot behind a housing project in Brooklyn. Guided by a detective, the driver hooked up a brown Buick Skylark and hauled it to a police garage. Inside the car was a headband. Prosecutors said later that it belonged to a 16-year-old girl, Jennifer Negron, whose body was found at dawn on New Year’s Day 1992, dumped on the street a few blocks from where the car was parked. She was Homicide 001 of 2,020 in New York that year.
A prosecutor later told a jury that the headband, beyond all other evidence, proved the guilt of two men charged with snatching Jennifer off the street and forcing her into that brown Skylark. Both men were convicted in 1993 of kidnapping her.
Now the men, Everton Wagstaffe and Reginald Connor, have filed motions in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, arguing that the verdict should be thrown out on the grounds that the police and the prosecutors covered up evidence that would have saved them from a guilty verdict in a crime they had nothing to do with.
During an extraordinary hearing last fall, a retired woman — with no known ties to anyone in the case — appeared. She had driven from Cottageville, S.C., to Brooklyn to testify that she used to live in the housing project where the car was found, that she was the owner of the Skylark, and that it could not possibly have been used in the crime because she had it at church that night.
The car owner, Betty Bonner-Moody, testified that she and her three daughters had driven to a Watch Night service at their church, arriving early to get a spot. Double-parkers quickly lined up along the street, she said.
“I was blocked in,” Ms. Bonner-Moody testified. “I couldn’t get out even if I wanted to.”
The service ran from before midnight until around 5 a.m., she said, and when she came out, her car was exactly where she had left it. Ms. Bonner-Moody said she had told the detectives, in 1992, that “it couldn’t have been” her car that was involved in the kidnapping.
Who says the government doesn’t hold the keys to freedom?