Brian McCray

On Halloween 1992, at about 6:30 a.m., Brian McCray and two other men, Denaldo Hill and Donald Marcus, visited the Jr. Market on Westminster Avenue in Norfolk, Virginia, where Hill argued with store manager James Harris over the price of some orange juice. Nearly two hours later, at 8:17 a.m., three men dressed in black robbed the store and killed Harris.
 
Police investigator David Browning interviewed a 13-year-old boy, Larry Edwards, who told Browning that he saw three men leaving the store shortly after the robbery, but was not sure he could identify any of them. Later that day, however, Edwards told Browning and fellow detective Donna Ripley during a second interview that he had recognized one of the men as Denaldo Hill, but could not identify the other two. After his second interview, Edwards talked to a 16-year-old police informant, who told Edwards that he had seen McCray (known as “Muscle” around the neighborhood) hanging out around the store the morning of the robbery. The informant also told Edwards that Edwards could share in a $1,000 reward offered for information in the case, if McCray was convicted.
 
On November 2, Browning and Ripley picked up Edwards after school and interviewed him a third time. During this interview, Edwards said he had recognized another of the three men, and named “Muscle” as the second of the three robbers. Edwards told Browning he had known “Muscle” all his life, but did not realize that he was the second robber until after Edwards had talked to the informant and learned about the reward. Browning discounted Edwards’ statements as unreliable and did not arrest McCray. But in February 1993, investigator Shaun Squyres took over the case and, ignoring Browning’s earlier concerns, immediately arrested McCray. In September 1993, Browning resigned from the department in protest over the handling of the case.
 
McCray, Hill, and Marcus were tried separately. McCray was tried before a jury in August 1993. Edwards was the only witness to identify McCray, Hill, and Marcus as the robbers. The jury found McCray guilty of first-degree murder, robbery, abduction, illegally wearing a mask, and use of a firearm. He was sentenced to 43 years in prison.
 
In December 1993, the trial court ordered a new trial, after hearing testimony that police and prosecutors suppressed evidence of Edwards’ unreliability. Norfolk detectives testified that they repeatedly warned Norfolk Commonwealth's Attorney Charles Griffith and his chief deputy, Norman Thomas, about the boy's waffling in his identification of McCray. David Browning testified that the boy only identified McCray after discussing a possible $1,000 reward with a 16-year-old police informant.
 
Browning’s testimony also raised questions about police procedures in homicide investigations. Browning testified that he did not mention the 16-year-old eyewitness or references to reward money in his investigative report because he did not want defense attorneys to learn the boy’s name and subpoena him. Browning claimed that he was protecting his informant, that after learning about the discussion of a reward he had decided not to arrest McCray, and that he had told his supervisor about the tainted statements.
 
The hearing that led the trial court to order a new trial also included testimony from the former lead prosecutor on the case, Troy Spencer. Spencer said that withholding the evidence about Edwards’ vacillating stories was “a knowing, intentional act” by his supervisors. Spencer, like Browning, resigned his position in protest over the handling of the case. Based on Spencer’s allegations, the Virginia State Bar investigated Commonwealth’s Attorney Charles Griffith, his deputy Norman Thomas, and Spencer himself for misconduct. Ultimately the state bar investigators found no “clear and convincing evidence” of any wrongdoing and dropped the investigation.
 
McCray was retried, and on May 27, 1994, a jury acquitted him of all charges. Two weeks after McCray was acquitted, a different jury convicted Hill of murdering Harris after a trial at which other witnesses, in addition to Edwards, testified that Hill threatened Harris before the murder and made incriminating statements afterwards. Hill was sentenced to 80 years in prison. In 1995, a third jury acquitted Donald Marcus of all charges except using a firearm in the commission of a felony. Marcus served 13 years.
 
— Michael Shaffer

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State:Virginia
County:Norfolk City
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Robbery, Kidnapping, Gun Possession or Sale
Reported Crime Date:1992
Convicted:1993
Exonerated:1994
Sentence:43 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age:24
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No