On April 11, 1986, Anthony Joseph, a cocaine dealer, was fatally shot three times in the head in the living room of his Brooklyn, New York apartment.
A neighbor who heard the gunshots called 911. When police arrived and knocked on the apartment door, Joseph’s wife, Verna, who had been hiding in a bedroom closet, became frightened and jumped out of a bedroom window, breaking both of her legs.
The police found Joseph lying against a dining room chair. Mrs. Joseph said that she had not seen the shooting because she was in the bedroom when her husband answered the door. She said she heard a man talking with her husband and then gunshots were fired, at which point she hid in the closet.
Mrs. Joseph told police that prior to the shooting, the intercom on their apartment had buzzed and when her husband answered it, a voice said that it was “Ty” or “Tide.”
Police found a fingerprint on the dinette chair that was matched to 27-year-old Todd “China” Lumpkins, who was on parole after previous convictions for rape and robbery.
A few days later, she told police she thought the voice on the intercom said his name was “Todd.” She said that the voice on the intercom was the same as the voice of the man that her husband let into their apartment and that Lumpkins had visited the apartment on previous occasions.
Lumpkins was arrested on April 23 and charged with murder,
Lumpkins went on trial in New York Supreme Court in July 1987. Joseph’s widow identified Lumpkins by his voice.
A police detective said that Lumpkin’s fingerprint was found on the dinette chair. The chair, as well as Joseph’s address book, which was on the dining room table, were not preserved as evidence, the detective said. No record was made of exactly where the print was found or of the direction of the print.
Lumpkins’ attorney, Mitchell Dinnerstein, argued that the presence of the fingerprint only meant that Lumpkins may have been in the apartment at some point, but was not proof that Lumpkins shot Joseph.
Emmanuel Bowser, a neighbor, testified for the defense that just prior to the shooting, he saw two men entering the building. Bowser described them as black males, one 5 feet 11 inches tall, the other 6 feet 1 inch tall, each wearing a moustache and goatee, one wearing an earring, and at least one whose head was shaved on the sides.
A jury convicted Lumpkins of second-degree murder on August 1, 1987. He was sentenced to 24 years to life in prison.
On the eve of the sentencing, a man named Quan Jackson telephoned Dinnerstein and claimed that Lumpkins was innocent. Quan said that in July, 1986, he had called the police Crime Stoppers Unit to tell them that two other men had killed Joseph.
Dinnerstein moved to vacate Lumpkins’ conviction because the prosecution had failed to disclose the Crime Stoppers tip.
A hearing on the motion established that on July 9, 1986, Detective Andrew Ware of the Crime Stoppers Unit had received an anonymous telephone call. The caller said that Lincoln Davis and Ronnie McNeil were the murderers.
The caller described Davis as black, about 24 to 25 years old, 6 feet to 6 feet 1 inch tall, dark skinned, with a moustache and goatee, and his head shaved on the sides, and McNeil, also known as “Clyde,” as black, about 25 to 26 years old, 6 feet tall, dark skinned, with a moustache and goatee. The caller provided addresses for both.
Neither description matched Lumpkins, who was about 5 feet, 11 inches tall, weighed 220 to 230 pounds, had no facial hair, and whose head was not shaved on the sides.
The caller said that McNeil and Davis had an argument with Joseph over the quantity of drugs they had bought from him and on the day of the murder, both were heard making threatening remarks about Joseph. Later that day, Joseph was killed, the caller said. The caller said that Davis and McNeil were bragging that “everything was cool because China (Lumpkins) got caught.”
The information was passed to the lead detective on the case, who created a police report based on the call. The detective attached photographs of Lincoln Davis and Ronald McNeil to the report and recorded their birth dates. The report also noted that the Latent Fingerprint Unit had been asked to compare the prints of Davis and McNeil with the prints taken from the crime scene.
Dinnerstein said he had not been provided with the report. The prosecutor said that the detective had not turned over the report to the prosecution.
In October 1988, the trial judge vacated Lumpkins’ conviction because of the failure to disclose the report to the defense.
The report, the judge said, was “precisely the kind of report required to be disclosed at the outset of the trial” because the detective was a witness and the report related to his testimony as the lead investigator on the case.
“The report went to the heart of that investigation,” the judge ruled. “It related to his knowledge of the case and his pursuit of a lead.”
The detective knew that the descriptions of the two suspects provided by the informant matched the descriptions of the two men provided by Bowser, but failed to investigate further. “And any reasonable police officer would have concluded that if the informant was sincere, the suspects were the two men seen by Bowser,” the judge said.
The judge ruled that the detective had lied at the hearing on the motion for new trial when he claimed that he checked out the tip and reported it to the prosecution.
“I find that his testimony was false and was designed to justify his failure to follow up the Crime Stoppers information,” the judge ruled. The detective, the judge ruled, did not investigate the report or try to find the two suspects named in it. He did not show the photographs to Joseph’s wife or Bowser, and his only use of the tip was to request a fingerprint comparison.
Lumpkins went on a trial a second time in June 1989. The jury, after hearing the evidence of the Crime Stoppers tip, acquitted Lumpkins. Quan Jackson, the caller who provided the tip, was never located.
– Maurice Possley