In April 1981, Kathleen Downey, a desk clerk at a motel in Boston, Massachusetts, was shot and killed during an armed robbery in which the robber took $385. In June 1981, a bartender at the motel identified Angel Toro as the robber in a photo lineup. Toro had recently been arrested on unrelated gun charges. Toro had an alibi and argued that, because he was a cocaine dealer, he had a substantial amount of money available to him and had no reason to rob anyone. At trial, the bartender identified Toro, and the prosecution presented evidence of several weapons found in Toro’s hotel room, though there was no evidence that any of these guns was the murder weapon. Two other witnesses testified that Toro was clean-shaven when he entered their business several days after the crime. The robber had been described as clean-shaven. Toro’s first trial ended in a hung jury. In June 1983, a second jury convicted Toro of first-degree murder and armed robbery, and he was sentenced to life in prison.
Following his conviction, Toro’s wife worked to prove her husband’s innocence. In 2003, she finally tracked down the two witnesses who said they had seen Toro clean-shaven after the robbery. The witnesses admitted that Toro had had a beard when they saw him, and they had lied because the police had threatened them unless they testified that he was clean-shaven. In July 2004, the police discovered an investigative report written 12 days after the murder in which a homicide detective suggested that another man, who had been killed while attempting to rob a nearby drug store a few days later, fit the description of the robber who killed Downey. The report was never turned over to the defense. Prosecutors did not oppose Toro’s motion for a new trial. In September 2004, a Suffolk County Superior Court judge vacated Toro’s conviction and granted him a new trial. In October 2004, prosecutors dismissed the charges against him. Toro remained in prison, serving a sentence of 3-years-to-life for a murder conviction in Florida, until he was paroled in November 2008.
- Stephanie Denzel