In May 1971, two uniformed New York City police officers in a marked police car were shot repeatedly with a .45 caliber machine gun. Both officers survived, but neither could provide a description of the assailants. Later that same year, Dhoruba bin Wahad was arrested while robbing a Bronx social club. Wahad, then known as Richard Moore, was a field secretary for the New York chapter of the Black Panthers. Police found a .45 caliber machine gun in Wahad’s possession, and ballistics testing confirmed it the same gun used in the May shooting. Police were also able to match Wahad’s fingerprints to a note claiming responsibility for the shootings that was left with a newspaper office. An anonymous tip led police to an informant who testified that she saw Wahad immediately before and after the shooting, and that his gun was still warm when she saw him after the shooting. The prosecution argued that Wahad had planned and carried out the shooting because, as a member of the Blank Panthers, he hated the police. Wahad’s first trial ended in a hung jury. After a second trial in 1973, a jury convicted Wahad of attempted murder and felonious possession of a firearm, and he was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
After his conviction, it was discovered that prosecutors failed to turn over statements of the witnesses that might have been used to impeach their testimony at trial. In March 1990, Wahad’s conviction was overturned because of the prosecution’s failure to disclose this exculpatory evidence, and he was released. The prosecution appealed the decision. When the decision was ultimately upheld in January 1995, the prosecution announced that they would not retry Wahad. Wahad sued both the FBI and the New York Police Department, and received a total of almost $900,000 in compensation.
- Stephanie Denzel