At 2:00 a.m. on February 24, 1990, a gunman opened fire with a nine-millimeter semi-automatic pistol outside Exodus, a reggae nightclub on the North Side of Chicago, Illinois. Nineteen-year-old Michael Fleming was killed and 22-year-old Ricky Warner was shot in the back and paralyzed from the neck down. Three other men also were wounded.
The three men who were wounded—21-year-old Boris Kaburov, 21-year-old Richard Kutchek and 20-year-old David Lofton—described the gunman as a dark-skinned African American of medium height. Police were unable to interview Warner until March 9 because his wounds were so serious.
Warner said that he and Fleming were attempting to sell fake drugs outside the club when the shooting erupted. He said he had not seen the gunman. During this interview, he said that about six months earlier, a man whom he knew only as “Rat” had threatened him and his family because Warner owed him $1,200 for cocaine. Police interviewed Warner’s father, who confirmed that a man known as Rat had come to the home demanding money and threatened to kill the family if the debt was not paid.
Police began questioning people on the street and informants and determined that 24-year-old Latherial Boyd, who had a prior drug conviction, went by the nickname of Rat. Boyd looked markedly different from the initial descriptions given by witnesses of a dark-skinned African American of medium height. Boyd is a light-skinned African American, 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighing 230 pounds.
Detectives showed a photographic lineup to Warner and he identified Boyd as the gunman. Warner’s father viewed a photographic lineup and identified Boyd as the man who came to his home.
On March 12, 1990, Boyd learned that police were looking for him and voluntarily went to a police station. There, he was put in a lineup. Nine witnesses who were outside the nightclub viewed the lineup, but none identified Boyd. However, Warner and his father both viewed the lineup and both identified Boyd.
In the fall of 1990, Boyd went on trial on charges of murder, attempted murder and aggravated battery in Cook County Circuit Court before Judge Shelvin Singer who heard the case without a jury.
Ricky Warner said that several months earlier, Boyd had given him a piece of paper with the name Rat written on it, along with Rat’s beeper number and the amount of drugs Ricky wanted to sell. The piece of paper was introduced into evidence. Ricky said he had identified Boyd in the photographic and live lineups and also identified him in court. He denied that he ever said he had not seen the gunman.
Kutchek, who was shot in the leg, testified that he and his friends were leaving a bar near the nightclub when Fleming and Ricky Warner approached and offered to sell marijuana. As they were talking, a car pulled up and a man in a dark coat began shooting. He was unable to identify Boyd as the gunman. Lofton testified that he was about two or three feet from the gunman, but could not tell the race of the shooter. He also was unable to identify Boyd.
Warner’s father, Herbert Warner, Sr., testified and identified Boyd as the man who came to the family’s home months before the shooting and threatened to kill them all if the drug debt was not paid. He said that the man got into a car with a personalized license plate that said “Rat.”
A Chicago police detective testified that Ricky Warner had identified Boyd when he showed him the photographic lineup in the hospital.
The defense called a nurse who was present when Warner was first interviewed by police. The nurse told the jury that “based on the pictures that were shown, (Ricky Warner) said he did not know who shot him and the person was not in those pictures.”
Boyd’s sister, Angela, testified that Boyd had spent the night at her apartment on the night of February 23 and that he left on the morning of the 24th. Her boyfriend, Harold Casey, a Cook County deputy sheriff, testified that he also spent the night at the apartment and that Boyd was there.
On October 24, 1990, Judge Singer convicted Boyd of murder, attempted murder and aggravated battery. He sentenced Boyd to 82 years in prison.
In 2001, after Boyd had lost his appeals, reporters from Chicago’s WGN television station began investigating the case. The reporters found witnesses who said that a man named Yuri “Cheesy” Smith, a drug dealer and leader of “Solid Gold Posse,” a Jamaican gang, controlled the drug territory where the reggae nightclub was located. The witness said that Smith had bragged on the street about shooting Warner and Fleming because they had violated his turf and were hurting his business by selling fake narcotics.
The journalists located one of the nine witnesses who had viewed the live lineup and were unable to identify Boyd as the gunman. The witness, Jennifer Bonanno, told the station that she had been standing three feet away when the shooting occurred. She said that after she could not identify anyone in the lineup, she asked the detective to identify the suspect. When the detective pointed to Boyd, she said she remarked that there was “no way in the world” that Boyd was the gunman because he did not resemble the shooter.
Casey, Boyd’s sister’s boyfriend, told the reporters that he had awakened at 1:30 a.m. on the night of the shooting and walked down the hall and saw Boyd asleep in a guest bedroom. He said Boyd’s defense lawyer had failed to ask him about that during the trial. The shooting occurred at 2 a.m. about 20 miles from the apartment.
In addition, Ricky Warner’s brother signed a sworn affidavit saying that months after the shooting, Ricky admitted to him that he falsely accused Boyd because Boyd had threatened him and their family over the unpaid drug debt. He said Ricky admitted he had not seen the gunman.
Based on the new evidence, Boyd filed a post-conviction petition seeking a new trial. The motion was denied, and the denial was upheld on appeal in 2006.
In 2011, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit began re-investigating the case based on new evidence presented by Boyd's attorney Kathleen Zellner. On September 10, 2013, upon the request of State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, the conviction was vacated, the charges were dismissed and Boyd was released.
Alvarez said that the case was dismissed because the evidence that nine witnesses to the shooting were unable to identify Boyd was not introduced at trial and because Ricky Warner had given conflicting statements about whether he saw the gunman.
– Maurice Possley