On January 4, 1992, two armed members of the White Tigers street gang opened fire, injuring two members of the Green Dragons street gang in the Royal Billiard Hall, in Queens, New York.
Shih-Wei Su, 17, was charged with attempted murder for ordering the White Tigers gang members to fire the shots.
At his 1992 trial, prosecutors presented a witness, Jeffrey Tom, a member of the Green Dragons, who said that he was in the pool hall and that he heard Su tell two White Dragon gang members, “When I leave, shoot them.”
At the time, Tom had pleaded guilty to a charge of attempted grand larceny and was awaiting sentencing. When asked by the prosecutor if he had been promised anything concerning the attempted grand larceny case, he said, “Nothing at all.”
Su was convicted and on February 25, 1992, he was sentenced to 16 to 50 years in prison.
While behind bars, Su studied the law and filed numerous appeals in attempt to open the file on Tom’s attempted grand larceny case, which had been sealed, but he was unsuccessful. In January, 1998, Legal Aid lawyer Katheryne M. Martone was appointed to his case and she was able to get access to the sealed transcript of Tom’s sentencing. The transcript showed that prosecutors had made a deal for Tom to get probation and youthful offender adjudication in return for testifying against Su.
In June, 2001, Su filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The U.S. District Court denied the petition, finding that the evidence of the deal had been hidden, but that Su was not prejudiced by its suppression.
In July 2003, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit granted Su’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus and overturned his convicted because evidence of the deal had been withheld from Su’s defense lawyer and because prosecutors knowingly allowed Tom to lie about the deal.
Su was transferred to Rikers Island to await a new trial. On November 5, 2003, the state dismissed the charges and he was released.
In October 2008, the city of New York settled the wrongful conviction lawsuit brought by Su for $3.5 million.
– Maurice Possley