A case of false identification has stolen 14 years from a man who is serving time for a crime he did not commit, according to the Legal Aid Society.
Defense attorneys with the nonprofit, which provides legal services in the city, filed a motion to vacate the murder conviction of James Davis in Kings County Supreme Court on Tuesday.
Davis was convicted in 2006 of fatally shooting Blake Harper inside a crowded party at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple in Clinton Hill in 2004, but there is no physical or forensic evidence that ties him to the crime, his attorneys said. Davis, who was 21 at the time of the shooting, was found guilty based solely on witness identification testimony that is now being disputed.
“Mr. Davis’ trial attorney never investigated the case; but when we were assigned to the appeal, we discovered exculpatory evidence that clearly vindicates our client,” Susan Epstein, staff attorney with the Criminal Appeals Bureau at The Legal Aid Society, said on Tuesday.
What the attorneys found was that Davis had become the only suspect in the case after his ex-girlfriend at the time told cops he was involved in the shooting, according to Legal Aid. Three of Harper’s friends then identified Davis in a line up, which led to his arrest.
The ex-girlfriend died in 2013, but her mother recently told Davis’ attorneys that before she passed away she admitted to falsely accusing him in the crime out of jealousy over another woman, the nonprofit said.
After his arrest, Davis told investigators he was at the party but had left early because he wasn’t feeling well. He said he spent the night at his then-girlfriend’s place, who later testified on his behalf in his first trial. The trial ended in a hung jury, 11-1 in favor of acquittal, according to Legal Aid.
When Davis’ retrial came up, the then-girlfriend was not available to testify and he was convicted of second-degree murder. Davis, who had been incarcerated on Rikers Island since his arrest roughly two years prior, was sentenced to 18 years-to-life in prison.
Since his conviction, however, Davis’ attorneys have found several witnesses who corroborate that he left the party before the shooting happened. Two of the new witnesses also identified who defense attorneys believe is the actual shooter — a man they knew from the neighborhood who looks similar to Davis.
Two of the three witnesses for the prosecution have since wavered or retracted their original testimony that helped put Davis behind bars, according to Legal Aid, and his then-girlfriend who had provided his alibi stands by her testimony from the first trial. The third eye witness, Harper’s brother-in-law, is dead.
Davis’ attorneys are urging Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez to join Legal Aid in the motion to vacate his conviction, asserting that his office’s Conviction Review Unit has already interviewed all of the new witnesses and completed its investigation over a year ago.
“We call on the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office to join us in this motion immediately, so that Mr. Davis’ nightmare can finally end,” Epstein added.
A spokesperson for Gonzalez’s office said on Tuesday that they take claims of wrongful conviction “very seriously,” and vowed to continue investigating Davis’ case.
“We also spent months investigating this case and interviewed many of the witnesses referenced in the defense motion as well as other witnesses,” the spokesperson said. “We will continue to investigate the claims made in the motion and respond to it in court.”