At 2 a.m. on December 14, 1996, 23-year-old Jason Smith was fatally shot and two others—19-year-old Marvin Ogman and 22-year-old Andre Clark—were wounded when four men opened fire with semi-automatic weapons in New Haven, Connecticut.
Police said the three victims were members of the Ghetto Boys street gang who were targeted by members of the Island Brothers, an opposition street gang which had vowed revenge on the Ghetto Boys for the fatal shooting in October of 16-year-old Tyrese Jenkins, an Island Brothers gang member. Police said that the Island Brothers had vowed to kill 16 Ghetto Boys—one for each year of Jenkins’ life.
At the hospital, Ogman, who was shot nine times, identified three of the gunmen as 21-year-old Darcus Henry, 18-year-old Johnnie Johnson
, and 18-year-old Carlos Ashe
. Not long after, he identified the fourth gunman as 21-year-old Sean Adams
Adams and Johnson were arrested on December 20, 1996 and Ashe and Henry were arrested on January 3, 1997.
Two years later, in 1999, Clark finally made a statement to police and identified the four defendants as the gunmen.
All four went on trial in New Haven County Superior Court in November 1999 on charges of murder, conspiracy and assault. Ogman and Clark both testified for the prosecution and gave what an appeals court would later characterize as wildly conflicting accounts of what happened, although both identified Adams, Henry, Ashe and Johnson as the gunmen.
Clark said Adams was wearing a yellow jacket at the time of the shooting. When arrested, Adams was wearing a yellow jacket, but a crime lab analyst said there was no gunshot residue on the jacket. No weapons were ever found.
Both were cross-examined extensively and both denied they had received any favorable treatment in return for their testimony. The defendants presented alibi witnesses who testified they were elsewhere at the time of the shooting. While Ogman said that Henry was wearing sneakers during the shooting, Henry presented a photograph taken of him shortly before the time of the shooting and he was wearing snakeskin dress shoes.
The jury convicted Henry on December 14, 1999 and convicted Adams on December 20, 1999. Mistrials were declared for Ashe and Johnson when the jury deadlocked on their cases. Henry and Adams were each sentenced to 100 years in prison.
Ashe was retried and convicted in November 2000. He was sentenced to 90 years in prison. Johnson was retried and convicted in 2001 and was sentenced to 75 years in prison.
After Adams’ conviction was upheld on appeal, he filed a state petition for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging that the prosecution had concealed from the defense that it had made a deal with Clark, who had been charged with drugs and weapon offenses. Although he faced a maximum sentence of 35 years in prison, some of the charges were dismissed and he received a four-year sentence. The petition accused the prosecution of knowingly allowing Clark to lie when he said he had no deal.
At a hearing Adams’ petition his trial prosecutor, John G. Clark, testified that he had intentionally put up a “fire wall” between himself and the prosecutor handling Andre Clark’s case.
The prosecution conceded that the information about the deal should have been disclosed and conceded that Andre Clark’s false testimony should have been corrected at trial, but contended that knowledge of the deal would not have led the jury to acquit Adams.
In 2011, the Connecticut Appellate Court reversed Adams’ conviction and ruled that the prosecution’s failure to disclose the deal with Clark and its failure to correct Clark’s false testimony denied Adams a fair trial. The court said that “in light of the dearth of physical evidence, …the fact that Ogman, one of the state’s key witnesses lacked credibility, and the effectiveness with which Andre [Clark] thwarted every effort by defense counsel to suggest he was motivated by the prospect of leniency instead of the desire for justice, the state’s failure to correct Andre’s false testimony was material” and may well have caused led to Adams’ conviction.
The appellate court also was highly critical of Ogman, noting that when he initially was brought into the hospital he told a surgical resident that he was unable to recall the events of the shooting. While hospital staff were treating him, he told a police officer that the gunmen were Johnson, Ashe, Henry and another man. He told another officer, while awaiting surgery, that the shooters were the Adams, Henry and Johnson. Shortly afterward, upon being questioned by another detective, Ogman for the first time named all four—Adams, Henry, Ashe and Johnson.
Although he remained consistent on those four men as the gunmen, the appellate court note that “On almost every other issue, however, Ogman's testimony was so inconsistent, both with respect to his own prior statements and testimony, and with respect to the testimony of other witnesses, that his overall veracity was, at best, highly suspect.” The court noted that during cross-examination, Ogman was asked: “Is it true that your concept, your understanding of the concept of truth, is that it's fluid, that is to say, that it changes with the situation that you are in or the audience that you have?” Ogman answered simply: “Yes.”
In 2013, the Connecticut Supreme Court upheld the Appellate Court decision. On July 25, 2013, the prosecution dismissed the case against Adams – and, because the ruling affected all four cases, dismissed the cases against Henry, Ashe and Johnson as well. All four men were released that day.
– Maurice Possley