At about 2:40 a.m. on August 17, 1987, Terrance Joyner was fatally shot while walking with a friend on front of 2380 Grand Avenue near 184th Street in the Bronx, New York.
Joyner’s friend, Evelyn Hall, told police that as they were walking up 184th Street, two men on the opposite side of the street called out to them saying they had some drugs for sale. She said she and Joyner crossed the street and when one of the men pulled out the drugs, Joyner said he didn’t have enough money.
At some point, Hall said one of the men accused Joyner of stealing some of the drugs. Voices were raised and Joyner and Hall walked away. One of the men followed and threw a bottle at Joyner, hitting him in the head and knocking him to the ground. The other man then approached, pulled out a gun and shot him in the chest. A gun and magazine were found nearby, but ballistics tests were inconclusive.
Don Taylor, 20, was arrested and charged with the murder on September 10, 1987, after Omar Portee identified him in a photo line-up and in a live line-up. At the time, Portee said he knew Taylor and had seen him shoot Joyner.
When he was arrested, Taylor was working for a home improvement company, attending the Monroe Business Institute after work and was an active congregant of his church. He also had formed a rap music group, managed another rap group, had published a song and performed at block parties under the name of “Don Q.”
Portee told police he met Taylor at one of his performances.
Taylor rejected two prosecution offers to plead guilty and went to trial in April 1989. Hall testified to the events leading up to and including the shooting, but said she could not identify the gunman or the man with him.
Portee identified Taylor as the gunman from the witness stand. At the time, Portee was in custody and facing multiple charges which could have resulted in as much as 50 years in prison, but he reached an agreement with the Bronx County District Attorney’s Office in which, in return for his testimony against Taylor, he pleaded guilty to reduced charges and received a sentence of two to six years. He was promised a favourable letter to the parole board as well.
The prosecution also allowed Portee a private visit with his girlfriend – apparently as a court later found, a conjugal visit.
Portee’s description of the shooting differed from Hall’s account. He said the gunman came from a different direction and that Joyner was smashed over the head with a bottle as opposed to the bottle being thrown.
There were other problems with his testimony. For example, Portee said that he was standing on the sidewalk talking to a woman named Johnson who was leaning out of her second story window; in fact Johnson lived a block from the shooting.
Taylor testified that at the time of the crime he was house-sitting for his girlfriend while she and other family members were in South Carolina, and was on the telephone with his girlfriend when the shooting occurred.
No physical evidence linked Taylor to the crime. He said he never owned a gun and had never fired a gun. Taylor denied knowing Portee, Hall or Joyner.
Taylor was convicted by a jury on April 25, 1989. He was sentenced to 22 ½ years to life in prison.
Portee began serving his prison sentence in June 1989 and he was released in June 1990.
In 1993, Portee was back behind bars after a conviction for a weapons charge. While he was being held in Rikers Island jail, Portee founded a violent prison gang known as United Blood Nation that was linked to numerous incidents of prison violence.
In 1998, attorneys for Taylor filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act and obtained the notes of the detective in the case. The notes showed that Hall initially gave police a physical description that did not fit Taylor. Hall told police the gunman was thin and 5 feet, 7 inches tall. Taylor was 5 feet, 9 inches tall and stocky, weighing 175 pounds. The notes recording that description were not turned over to Taylor’s trial attorney.
As a result of that discovery, Taylor’s attorneys managed to interview Portee twice and he told them that Taylor was not involved. In 1999, after Portee was released from prison, he gave a sworn statement that he had testified falsely when he named Taylor as the gunman.
The Bronx District Attorney’s office then began its own investigation—which was delayed for several years because Portee was indicted by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of New York on racketeering and other charges arising out of the activities of the United Blood Nation.
Portee was convicted in 2003 and sentenced to 50 years in prison.
In January 2004, Bronx assistant district attorney Jeremy Shockett interviewed Portee at a federal prison in Florida. Portee told him that Taylor was not involved in Joyner’s shooting.
On January 24, 2004, on a motion by the Bronx District Attorney’s office, Taylor’s conviction was set aside, the charges were dismissed and he was released.
In 2005, Taylor filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the New York City police department and the Bronx County District Attorney’s Office. The lawsuit was settled in August 2005 for $900,000.
Taylor filed a separate claim with the New York Court of Claims that was settled in 2009 for $1.3 million.
– Maurice Possley