Exonerated in November, 2003
In August 1988, two or three masked men fired several shots into a group of people hanging out on the street in Boston’s Roxbury district, killing a 12 year-old girl. Police suspected the motive was gang-related vengeance. The crime received nation-wide press coverage and public outrage placed considerable pressure on police to find the perpetrators. Based on the testimony of several witnesses, Shawn Drumgold and Terrance Taylor, both known gang members, were charged with the crime.
In 1989, Taylor was found not guilty for lack of evidence, but Drumgold was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. His conviction was based on the testimony of four eyewitnesses and was affirmed in 1996 by the Supreme Judicial Court.
For years, Drumgold’s appellate attorney, Rosemary Curran Scapicchio, pursued unsuccessful appeals in state and federal court. It was not until Dick Lehr, an investigative reporter at the Boston Globe, looked into the case in 2003 that it began to unravel. Police officers knew at the time of the trial that a key eyewitness who had testified that she saw Drumgold with a gun leaving the scene of the crime had brain cancer, which could affect her memory, perception, and cognitive function, but this information was withheld from the prosecution and the defense. Many eyewitnesses, who were teenagers at the time of the killing and were frightened to speak, began to come forward 15 years later. Police had threatened to arrest a 16-year-old girl, who had verified Drumgold’s alibi, if she did not implicate him. Two teens, one bribed by police with housing, food, and money and the other frightened and intimidated, gave damaging evidence at the trial that was dictated to them by police. These, and other eyewitnesses recanted their earlier testimony or offered new exculpatory information about events at the time of the shooting.
Based on the new testimony, an evidentiary hearing was held in July, 2003, at which point Superior Court Judge Barbara J. Rouse vacated Drumgold’s conviction, saying “justice was not done” at his 1989 trial and that the “system had failed”. The district attorney decided not to retry Drumgold, but would also not consider him exonerated.
In October 2014, Shawn Drumgold, was awarded $5 million in damages by a US District Court after the court found former Boston police detective Timothy Callahan liable for violating Drumgold’s civil rights.