http://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-new-haven-man-may-be-freed-20150903-story.html

 

On August 1, 2006 Herbert Fields was robbed, shot and killed as he sat in his car in a not so good neighborhood of New Haven, CT. The killers ran to the next intersection and veered to the right towards where they lived. A few days later, the police asked to see if the prints on the vehicle belonged to a suspected shooter or the young man that knew Mr. Fields was flush with cash and had set up that place and time to meet and receive a small loan.

A month later, the suspected shooter was found dead in possession of the gun that killed Fields and had been used in other two murders just prior to the Field’s killing.

Forty-five days after that, an upside down palm print on the passenger side of the car came back to the suspected shooter’s cousin whom he lived with. Both had significant contacts with the police. Both matched the general description of the witnesses.This was the evidence.

Yet, all this was ignored, when some very questionable informants and the alleged illegal use of Confidential Informant money somehow led the detectives to the men pictured with me. The connections were tenuous at best.  A third boy, Michael Holmes was coerced into giving a statement against Bobby Johnson to my left and Kwami Wells-Jordan on my right. Coerced confessions  by Bobby and Kwami were used against each other along with Holmes’ statement. None of the boys had a lawyer present when they were badgered for hours. One was threatened with the death penalty, if he didn’t confess and was told he would just get 10 years probation, if he put himself and the other boy at the scene. The other was told a lie that his fingerprints were found at the scene and that he would be allowed to go home if he put himself and the other boy at the scene. They were shown crime scene photos and were rehearsed before the “confessions” were taped   Even though both boys had solid alibis that they were at a near-by Pharmacy when Fields was killed, the police never bothered to see if the Pharmacy had CCTV before arresting them. Their mug shots were never shown, after their arrests, to neighbors and witnesses who saw the robbers at close distance and in broad daylight. Neither boy had any juvenile record of substance.

Bobby Johnson’s court-appointed attorney essentially gave him a choice of going to trial and getting handed 60 years or taking a plea deal for 38. Shortly after turning 18, Bobby took the plea.

Kwami, was appointed a different lawyer, Diane Polan, who retained me and I began my investigation. I obtained statements from alibi witness and later learned that the alibi witnesses were “roughly” questioned by the detectives when their statements were turned over to the State.

A named eye-witness gave me a statement that she grew up with Kwami and knew him by sight and said that he wasn’t one of the two boys, not three, that walked pass her before converging on Mr. Field’s car.

I compared the transcripts of all three boys statements and teased out the discrepancies between each one and with the known facts. They had a 50-50 chance of saying where they ran after the shooting and they guessed wrong. When the gun was found on the suspected shooter’s body, Bobby was called back in to amend his statement to say that he gave the gun back to the suspected shooter.

At Kwami’s trial, Holmes and Bobby recanted their statements. Kwami’s aunt, who was present during Kwami’s interrogation, also detailed the abusive tactics used by the detectives.

A Forensic Psychologist testified how false confessions occur.

The lead detective did not testify as he had been arrested for allegedly stealing informant funds and exercised his right to remain silent.

When it was over, the jury acquitted Kwami on all charges in May of 2008.

Attorney Polan then contacted the CT Innocence project who hired Ken Rosenthal who called me in November of 2012. I told him that I had waited over four years for that phone call. Attorney Rosenthal took on a full court press and attacked the State’s case on grounds of actual innocence, violations of due process, and ineffective counsel. We uncovered new facts and presented witnesses, included Kwami Wells Jordan, who now testified about how he was verbally beaten down to give the detectives what they wanted to hear. The judge who heard the appeal, narrowed the scope of what he would allow, since Bobby Johnson had pled guilty. He denied the appeal.

Game over, right? Nope. Ken Rosenthal found new grounds for a fresh appeal. Files that I had asked for through an Freedom of Information request in early 2008 which was denied, were made available to him by subpoena.They contained exculpable evidence which if Bobby Johnson’s first attorney had known about, may have changed his mind about the plea bargain.  Ken then convinced the State’s de facto Conviction Integrity Unit to look at the case with a different set of eyes. More information surfaced about the confidential informant funds. The State realized that Ken Rosenthal wasn’t giving up and was preparing for another full blown appeal.They wisely decided to vacate the conviction and asked to nolle the case against Bobby Johnson. Ken convinced the judge to dismiss the case altogether and today, September 3, 2015 Bobby Johnson walked out of court a free man after almost 9 years in jail.

There he met Kwami for the first time outside of a courtroom since both of their arrests. When I saw these two men talking and taking in the scene, I realized that they were just boys the last time they were out in the sunshine together, I had to take in the moment with them. This case just one of many why I choose to challenge the status quo of investigative interviewing in America.

Oh by the way, njohnhodacoercedeither the suspected shooter’s cousin nor the man that set up the meeting where Mr Fields died have been charged.