Exonerated in January, 1985
In 1972, Marvin Morgan was shot to death outside a club in Boston in front of two friends, Jasper Lassiter and Eric Baker, both of whom identified Frank “Parky” Grace, a member of the Black Panther Party, as the shooter, and Frank’s brother Ross as his accomplice. Frank had a corroborated alibi that he was elsewhere at the time, but the testimony of the two witnesses was convincing, and in their 1974 trial, Frank was convicted of first-degree murder and his brother of second-degree murder, both receiving life sentences.
In 1982, Ross Grace told the Governor’s Advisory Board of Pardons and Commutations that he was the one who shot Morgan and that his brother was not there. He had lied initially believing that Frank could prove where he was. In a 1984 motion for a new trial, Jasper Lassiter recanted his testimony and asserted that Ross alone had murdered Morgan. He insisted that police forced him to identify Frank as the shooter. “Before my testimony, police officers told me that Frank would be sitting next to Ross in the courtroom and that I should testify that Frank fired the gunshot that killed Morgan.” He added that he had never seen Frank before the trial. Because Frank Grace was an active member of the Black Panther Party, he had been put under surveillance by the FBI, after which the New Bedford police regularly arrested him on a variety of charges, all of which were ultimately dropped.
In addition, a new witness, Ronald Cruz, testified that, from his apartment, he saw Ross shoot the victim and that Frank, whom he knew well, was not there. Another witness also came forward to testify that he was across the street at the time of an argument, saw Ross with a gun and backed away. When he turned to run at the corner, he heard two shots. He knew both brothers and was positive that Frank was not there. He testified that he had called the police at the time to report witnessing the crime, but was told that they already had enough witnesses; his call and name were never recorded. Further, two attorneys no longer constrained by attorney-client privilege testified that Ross had told them separately that he alone had shot Morgan.
In January 1985, Superior Court Justice Elizabeth J. Dolan ordered a new trial for Frank Grace, because “the new evidence revealed at the hearing appeared so grave, material and relevant as to afford a probability that it would be a real factor with the jury in reaching a decision”. Prosecutors decided not to re-prosecute Grace, given the court’s findings and the unavailability of witnesses.