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Four men who were charged with a gang-related shooting and spent nearly two decades behind bars before being exonerated have been awarded $4.2 million each by Connecticut’s claims commissioner. The award brings an apparent end to a case that included a trip to the state Supreme Court, where justices had harsh criticism for prosecutors who did not correct a key witnesses’ false testimony.
The combined $16.8 million for the four men from the state comes under a Connecticut law that allows compensation for those who file claims of wrongful incarceration and can validate their cases. Typically, those qualifying to compensation must have been convicted, served time in prison, were later proven innocent and had their conviction vacated. The claims commissioner then decides how much money the person is entitled to after their lawyer presents comprehensive briefing and oral arguments.
Back in 1996, the plaintiffs were reportedly part of a gang called the Island Brothers. They were charged with a shooting that occurred in December 1996 in a courtyard at a housing project in New Haven. The three targets of the attack were, all members of a rival gang known as the Ghetto Boys. Each of the three victims was shot multiple times and suffered serious wounds; one victim died from those wounds. The two surviving victims were the state’s primary witnesses at the ensuing jury trials of the four men. Initially, one witness said he did not see the shooter and the other changed his story several times.
Both witnesses claimed one of the shooters wore a yellow jacket. One plaintiff had a yellow jacket at the time of his arrest. That evidence and the surviving victims’ testimony was essentially all the evidence the prosecution had. Two years after the attack, according to court records, one witness changed his story about not seeing the shooter in order to reduce his own pending charged. He identified the four men who were later convicted.
At trial, the witness falsely testified that he had not been made any promises regarding his pending charges in two unrelated criminal cases in exchange for his testimony against the defendants. Ultimately, the plaintiffs were found guilty of murder, conspiracy to commit murder and assault. They were given 100-year sentences. The jury was unable to reach a verdict for two of the plaintiffs, but the two were later retried and also found guilty. One plaintiff filed a habeas petition, seeking a new trial based on allegations of false testimony by the witness. His challenge made it to the Supreme Court, which ruled that he was entitled to a new trial. The justices criticized the way prosecutors handled the cases, calling it “legally indefensible.” The two prosecutors agreed not to share any details with each other about the witness pending cases and the trials of the four suspects.
Prosecutors in 2013 decided not to retry the four men, acknowledging that there was no credible evidence against them. They had served 16-and-a-half years of their sentences. According to court documents, one of the plaintiffs was 21 at the time of his arrest. He was enrolled in a technical school and planned to be a plumber. Another plaintiff was 18 at the time of his arrest. He testified at habeas hearings about not being able to help his mother and siblings while behind bars. Another plaintiff was a 20-year-old barber at the time of his arrest and hoped to work as a music promoter. He said he was close with his mother and grandmother and that it’s hard on him because both passed away while he was in prison. The fourth plaintiff was also 18 at the time of his arrest. He worked full-time to help his mother support the family.
The Claims Commissioner’s $4.2 million award for each man includes $2.4 million for loss of liberty and the enjoyment of life and $1.1 million for loss of earnings and future earning capacity. In making each of the four awards, the claims commissioner allocated $200,000 for costs, legal fees and expenses.
At Maya Murphy, P.C., our personal injury attorneys are dedicated to achieving the best results for individuals and their family members and loved ones whose daily lives have been disrupted by injury, whether caused by a motor vehicle or pedestrian accident, a slip and fall, medical malpractice, a defective product, or otherwise. Our attorneys are not afraid to aggressively pursue and litigate cases and have extensive experience litigating personal injury matters in both state and federal courts, and always with regard to the unique circumstances of our client and the injury he or she has sustained.
Source: CT Law Tribune