Bobby Joe Leaster

15 years

Exonerated on December 26, 1986


Bobby Joe Leaster was arrested in 1970 for the murder of Levi Whiteside, a Roxbury, Massachusetts store owner who was shot and killed during a holdup. Leaster was standing on a sidewalk in the South End when he was arrested; the clothes he was wearing fit the description of the person who shot Whiteside. Leaster was presented to the wife of the victim, and she promptly identified him. However, Mrs. Whiteside was nearly hysterical and had to be sedated twice that same day. Later on, she lost certainty that Leaster was the perpetrator. One woman in the store initially stated that she had not seen the shooting ouccur, bt changed her story in court and identified Leaster.

Thought Leaster was not at the crime scene, his alibi did not hold up. He was with his girlfriend at the time of the robbery, but she lied to police due to fear of harassment for being a white woman living with an African-American man. There was no physical evidence linking Leaster to the crime. The victim had hit the shooter in the face with a coffee mug, but Leaster had no cuts or bruises when he was arrested. The perpetrator’s watch was also found at the scene but Leaster was wearing one himself when he was arrested.

Six years after his conviction, Robert and Christopher Muse, two Boston attorneys, took up Leaster’s case. The Muses worked for nine years without any major successes. Then, in 1986, Mark Johnson, a Boston school teacher, was reading an article about Leaster. Johnson was 13 at the time of the shooting, and had witnessed the attack. Johnson saw two men fleeing the scene, and said with certainty that neither of them was Leaster. Based on this evidence, a new trial was granted. The district attorney declined to re-try Leaster and he was released.