In August 1989, two men shot and wounded Deron Jones in a Boston, Massachusetts housing project, and then fired on the police officers who pursued them.
One of the men, Dwayne Owens, surrendered at the scene. Officer Terence O’Neil, one of the police officers who pursued the men, then arrested a second man, Christopher Harding. O’Neil claimed that he had seen Harding shoot twice at Jones and once at the police before throwing down his gun and fleeing into an adjacent building, where he was found and arrested. A friend of Jones also identified Harding as one of the shooters after he saw Harding under arrest in the back of a police car. Harding claimed he had been sleeping in the stairwell of the building, which he often did when he was too drunk to go home, when O’Neil woke him up and arrested him. Harding’s version of events was supported by a witness who saw a different man with Owens around the time of the shooting.
At trial, the prosecution based its case on the testimony of Officer O’Neil. Police supervisors claimed that O’Neil’s partner – the second officer who had pursued the shooters – was out of town at the time of the trial and thus could not testify. In May 1990, Harding was convicted of assault with intent to murder and sentenced to 10-to-12 years.
Harding was released in October 1995. A separate federal investigation in 1997 revealed that Robert Owens, Dwayne Owens’s cousin, may have been the other shooter, and that Harding’s conviction was the result of police and prosecutorial misconduct. Police supervisors had improperly ordered O’Neil’s partner to ignore a subpoena from the defense attorney, and had lied to the judge when they said that she was out of town. Police also lost the hat and jacket that were supposedly worn by the shooter, which Harding said he could have proven were not his.
O’Neil’s testimony was contradicted by a ballistics report, and he had disobeyed a court order by speaking to another police witness during the trial, who then allegedly changed his testimony. In addition, the friend of Jones who had identified Harding, recanted his identification, and several witnesses came forward to support Harding’s alibi. In January 1998, prosecutors announced that they would not retry Harding. In January 2000, Harding settled a lawsuit against the city of Boston for $480,000.
- Stephanie Denzel