On July 9, 1998, Joseph Davis, an inmate at Rikers Island, New York City’s main jail complex, reported that he had been raped the previous night by his cellmate, William Westly.
Davis said the attack was broken up by another inmate named Bruce Rivers. Davis sought medical treatment and a rape kit was prepared.
At trial, Davis was the sole prosecution witness and no medical evidence was submitted to the jury because there was no evidence linking Westly to the attack.
On December 23, 1999, Westly was convicted and sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.
A federal civil rights lawsuit was filed on behalf of Davis on January 31, 2000, just five weeks after Westly was convicted. The lawsuit was settled for $150,000 on September 26, 2002.
Lawyers for the city of New York began to gather documents for the defense of the lawsuit and discovered numerous jail reports that had never been provided to Westly’s trial counsel.
The reports said that on the night of alleged assault, Davis told a fellow inmate, Shawn Patterson, that he was going to fabricate a sex scandal to obtain a transfer off the cell block for himself and his lover. Patterson reported that Davis said this at about 8:20 p.m., which was after the time that Davis later said he was attacked.
Further, reports prepared by the corrections officers on duty that night also showed that Davis waited 12 hours after the alleged assault to make a report to jail officers, even though Davis testified that he was distraught and hysterical immediately after the attack and that a female corrections officer had seen his reaction. The jail reports documented an interview with the female officer in which she said she saw nothing unusual during her tour.
The reports documented numerous other contradictions to Davis’s trial testimony.
Westly’s appellate lawyers also discovered that at the trial, the prosecution elicited testimony from Davis that he had not “filed” a lawsuit prior to testifying, even though Assistant District Attorney Robert Gonzalez had had repeated contact with Davis’s civil attorney and was aware that Davis was contemplating such a suit.
The prosecution had argued that Davis was credible because he was not attempting to cash in with a lawsuit over the alleged attack.
Westly’s lawyers also discovered that another inmate at the jail was interviewed by the prosecution prior to trial and the interview was tape recorded. During the interview, the inmate said that he saw Davis and Rivers having sex on the night that Davis later said he was sexually assaulted by Westly.
Rivers then provided a sworn affidavit saying that Davis was not assaulted and that Davis had actually told him that if he corroborated Davis’s claim of an assault, they would both get rich.
In October, 2001, a motion to vacate the conviction was filed and the prosecution consented to vacating the conviction and the charges were dismissed.
– Maurice Possley