Shortly after midnight on July 23, 1994, 79-year-old Hiram Broxton was fatally shot in the back after scuffling with burglars in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Broxton, a retired member of the U.S Air Force, lived on the first floor of the home and his grandson, Israel Lewis, lived in the apartment on the second floor. When Broxton heard noises upstairs, he took his gun and went up to investigate. During a scuffle, his gun was taken and used to shoot him.
Police searched the apartment and found 260 grams of nearly 80 percent pure crack cocaine.
Lewis was not at home at the time and when he learned of the shooting, he left for Atlanta, Georgia. He later turned himself in after a warrant was issued for his arrest for cocaine trafficking.
Lewis cooperated after being promised by police and later by a prosecutor that he would get lenient treatment on the drug charge.
Lewis then led them to a crack house, where Robert Shular and Michael Hill stayed at least once a week. Lewis said that both men had sold drugs for him and been to his home, although they had never been inside.
During a search of the crack house, police found a silver .380-caliber semiautomatic handgun beneath a pile of garbage in a closet in the room where Hill and Shular stayed. A ballistics expert later established that this gun was the murder weapon.
Two residents of the crack house told police that Hill had admitted to them that he shot Broxton.
Hill and Shular were arrested in January 1995 and charged with first degree murder.
Shular went to trial first. The state argued that he and Hill had gone to the house to rob Lewis of money and drugs. Hill, they contended, sold cocaine for Lewis and knew that large amounts of cash and drugs were kept in the apartment.
Lewis testified that $7,500 was missing from his apartment. He said that Hill and Shular were regular customers and that Hill worked for him. Both Shular and Hill had been to the house before, he said.
On cross-examination, Lewis denied that he had received a deal for leniency on his drug case in exchange for testifying.
The gun was presented as evidence, although the defense showed that many other people stayed in the room where it was found, not just Shular and Hill.
The defense called Jose Ramos, a teenager who lived next door to Broxton. Ramos testified that he saw a red car drive up and one man go inside while the driver stayed in the car, that he then heard a gunshot and saw the man get back into the car and leave. The testimony contradicted the prosecution’s theory that two men—Shular and Hill—had gone into the house.
At the conclusion of his trial, in September 1995, Shular was acquitted by a jury.
Hill went on trial in January 1996 in Hampden County Superior Court.
Kimberly Ingram, a drug and alcohol user, who had known Hill for about a year, testified that Hill told her he had shot Broxton during a conversation at the crack house in November 1994.
On cross-examination, Ingram denied that Hill made the statement, but she then reaffirmed it on redirect.
Richard Williams, a cousin of Shular, testified that he was with Hill and Hill’s best friend Jimmie Lee Perkins after the murder, and Perkins said that he had accompanied Shular and Hill to burglarize Lewis’s apartment. When they found Lewis away, a struggle ensued and Broxton had been shot.
Lewis again testified, saying that he feared that Hill and Perkins would try to rob him because Perkins had a reputation for ripping off drug dealers.
On cross-examination, Hill’s lawyer asked Lewis if he had a deal with the prosecution for leniency. Lewis denied there was a deal, saying he was testifying “to rectify what happened to my grandfather.”
Hill testified that he was staying at a motel on the night of the murder with a woman named Stacy Mary Bosworth. He said he was at his godmother's house for dinner, and then met Bosworth at 11:30 p.m. and they went to a motel. He said they took a cab at 5 a.m. to Bosworth’s home so they could drive to an amusement park in New Jersey.
Bosworth and Hill’s godmother corroborated his account and a taxi record was introduced showing a pickup at the motel at 5 a.m. with the final destination being Bosworth’s residence.
The defense did not call Ramos—although the trial lawyer knew about Ramos’s testimony in Shular’s trial.
The prosecution impeached Bosworth’s testimony with motel records showing them checking in at 1 a.m. on July 22—nearly 24 hours before the shooting.
On January 12, 1996, a jury convicted Hill of first degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
The attorney handling Hill’s appeal looked into Lewis’s case and discovered that about nine months after Hill was convicted, Lewis, who was facing a charge that carried a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence, pled guilty to a lesser charge and received a 2½ year sentence.
During that court hearing, the judge was told that Lewis had been promised consideration for his testimony against Shular and Hill. Further investigation by the appellate lawyer uncovered a memorandum prepared by Lewis’s attorney detailing the negotiations between Lewis and the prosecution and verifying the existence of a deal.
A motion for new trial was filed and on June 8, 1999, Hill’s conviction was set aside because of the failure to disclose the evidence of a deal and because the prosecution allowed Lewis to lie about the existence of a deal.
The judge also found that Hill’s trial attorney had been ineffective for failing to call Ramos as a witness and for failing to obtain motel records that would have explained the apparent variance between the motel records and Bosworth's testimony. Although the motel records showed Hill and Bosworth checking in on the 22nd at 1 a.m., they actually didn’t check in until close to midnight—about the time of the shooting. The 1 a.m. time was automatically recorded on all motel check-in records, no matter what time a guest checked in.
In October 1999, Hill was released on bond.
The ruling setting aside Hill's convcition was upheld by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in November 2000.
On April 19, 2002, the charges against Hill were dismissed.
– Maurice Possley