Boston Herald
Peter Vaughn, Neil Miller and Shawn Drumgold
Peter Vaughn, Neil Miller and Shawn Drumgold were all freed after serving time for crimes they didn't commit. (Staff photo by John Wilcox)

 May 5, 2004

 22 Bay State men wrongfully jailed 
 Overzealous cops, shoddy investigations, lying witnesses - how the system failed
 By Franci Richardson and Maggie Mulvihill

 Within the last two decades, at least 22 innocent Bay State men - most of 
 them black and most investigated by Boston Police - have served serious 
 prison time after being wrongfully convicted on rape and murder charges, 
 according to a Boston Herald/Fox 25investigation.

 Since 1997 alone, nine innocent black men convicted in Suffolk County have 
 been freed after serving anywhere from four to 30 years behind bars.

 Throughout the country, 143 innocent suspects have been freed since 1990, 
 but experts say the number of Suffolk County's wrongful convictions is 
 second only to Chicago, which has sent the largest number of innocent men 
 to jail.

 ``Unfortunately, Massachusetts in general has a big problem with wrongful 
 convictions,'' said Aliza B. Kaplan, an Innocence Project attorney. 
 ``Suffolk County is up there, unfortunately.''

 The Herald/Fox 25 findings come as Gov. Mitt Romney has renewed his call 
 for the death penalty, saying newly proposed guidelines will avoid 
 wrongful convictions.

 Nowhere in Massachusetts has the problem been more disturbing than in 
 Boston, where 77 percent of the wrongly convicted murderers and rapists 
 identified to date were arrested, tried and convicted.

 Thirteen of those 17 Hub cases were investigated by Boston Police homicide 
 and rape detectives and prosecuted by the Suffolk County District 
 Attorney's office.

 The BPD homicide unit has come under heavy criticism for conducting overly 
 aggressive interrogations while focusing their investigations too narrowly.

 ``When police get a suspect, they ignore any suggestion that someone else 
 did it,'' said Stephen Hrones, a defense attorney who represented 
 wrongfully convicted Donnell Johnson. Johnson, now 26, served five years 
 in prison for the 1994 murder of a 9-year-old boy.

 Two new suspects were indicted for Jermaine Goffigan's death in 2001, but 
 have not yet been tried.

 A review of wrongful convictions found these disturbing facts:

 - A serious error by a Boston police fingerprint technician has triggered 
 a criminal investigation by Attorney General Tom Reilly into how a 
 thumbprint police said was Stephan Cowans' turned out to belong to a 
 different man.

 Cowans, who served 6 1/2 years in prison, was freed in January after being 
 convicted for shooting Boston Police Sgt. Detective Gregory Gallagher in 

 His attorney, James Dilday, said: ``I truly believe that the Boston police 
 set him up and I think it's because there was a policeman who was shot.''

 ``Stephan was a young black man with a criminal record and he was nobody. 
 As far as they were concerned, one black man with a criminal record was 
 interchangeable with another black man with a criminal record,'' Dilday 

 - Ulysses Rodriguez Charles served 19 1/2 years in jail before being freed 
 last year for the 1980 rapes of three Brighton women.

 Charles, 50, has tried to pick up where he left off nearly two de cades 
 ago - an innocent man with a hole in his life.

 ``I look at it like it was a death,'' said Charles, of Dorchester, sitting 
 next to his wife, Rosalind. ``I was just existing. I was just breathing. 
 My life had ceased. . .I don't talk about it now, though.''

 Charles doesn't believe in the concept of justice.

 ``This goes on all the time,'' he said. ``It's happening now as we speak. 
 It's just unfortunate it happened to me.''

 New DNA tests have also helped to clear other men who insisted they were 
 innocent, including:

 - Neil J. Miller spent 10 1/2 years in prison for raping a white Emerson 
 College student in 1989. Because DNA was not yet admissible in 
 Massachusetts courts, police never tested a semen stain on a sheet 
 covering the bed where the rape occured, a police official said. The lead 
 detective on the case, now-Deputy Supt. Margot Hill, claimed the stain 
 came from the victim's roommate's boyfriend. Recent DNA testing proved the 
 stain came from the rapist.

 And even though the victim said her attacker touched many items in her 
 apartment, none of the fingerprints police lifted matched Miller's.

 Miller, 37, also claims Hill improperly influenced the rape victim's 
 identification and falsely told the victim Miller had raped a 90-year-old 

 - The unreliability of eyewitness identification has also factored heavily 
 into the Suffolk County prosecutions.

 ``There are serious problems with eyewitness identification - more than I 
 recognized,'' said a sometimes tearful Leslie O'Brien, now a defense 
 attorney who, as a Suffolk County assistant district attorney in the 
 1990's, prosecuted four of the eight overturned cases.

 One was Marlon Passley.

 Passley, 31,was cleared in 1999 of a deadly 1995 shooting in which several 
 eyewitnesses claimed he pulled the trigger. He spent four years in prison.

 ``These witnesses, I'm telling you, were extremely convincing,'' O'Brien 

 - Families of those wrongly convicted blame Boston police, and some accuse 
 them of deliberately trying to frame their relatives.

 The mother of Donnell Johnson - who spent five years in jail for the 1994 
 Halloween murder of a 9-year-old - said she was stunned when she realized 
 at her son's trial Sgt. Detective Daniel M. Keeler and his former partner, 
 Sgt. Detective William Mahoney, had withheld the alibi statement she, her 
 husband, and Johnson gave police the day after the murder.

 ``That was really hard to take in when you know the truth and you know 
 that we were in that room for a good 40 to 45 minutes being questioned, 
 with Donnell actually being questioned,'' Robin Johnson said. ``If you're 
 trying to build a case against somebody with not too much evidence, it was 
 another piece of the puzzle they needed to destroy.''

 Another innocent man who fell victim to faulty identification was Shawn 

 Drumgold served 15 1/2 years after being wrongfully convicted of the 
 murder of 12-year-old Darlene Tiffany Moore in 1988. He said the ``stigma 
 of child killer'' was a hard cross to bear in prison.

 ``I was scared to death. I was 23 years old,'' Drumgold said.

 Drumgold, now 38, feels the uproar over the death of Moore - a young 
 victim of gang gunfire - drove police to blame anyone fast.

 ``I think they were just interested in getting someone to quiet the 
 community down,'' Drumgold said.

 Confronted by what has become an ongoing, embarassing crisis, police and 
 prosecutors are being forced to revamp their systems.

 In the two months since Kathleen M. O'Toole was appointed Boston police 
 commissioner, she ousted three homicide detectives and replaced the unit's 
 leadership with Deputy Superintendent Daniel Coleman.

 She is also seeking to have her fingerprint and ballistics units certified 
 and is revamping protocol for interrogations.

 ``I can't rewrite history; I can tell you things are changing around 
 here,'' she said.

 Powell's release led O'Toole and Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel 
 Conley to establish a task force made up of police officers, prosecutors, 
 a professor and defense attorneys.