On July 9, 1998, Joseph Davis, an inmate at Rikers Island, New York City’s main jail complex, reported that he had been sexually assaulted the previous night by his cellmate, 47-year-old William Westly, and another jail inmate, 23-year-old Michael Bumbury.
Davis, who was being held on a burglary charge, said an inmate named Bruce Rivers broke up the attack. Davis sought medical treatment and a rape kit was prepared.
At the time of the alleged crime, Bumbury was being held on a menacing charge. Because he was on parole for a sodomy conviction when he was 15, he was also accused of a parole violation. Westly was being held on a robbery charge.
Westly and Bumbury were tried together in December 1999 in Bronx County Supreme Court. Davis was the sole prosecution witness and no medical evidence was submitted to the jury because no physical evidence linked Westly or Bumbury to the attack.
On December 23, 1999, Westly and Bumbury were convicted. Westly was sentenced as a persistent felony offender to 20 years to life in prison. Bumbury, who had a prior conviction for sodomy when he was 15 and for which he served 3 ½ years, was sentenced to 12 years to life in prison.
On January 31, 2000, just five weeks after Westly and Bumbury were convicted, Davis filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging that the City of New York was responsible for the sexual assault since it occurred in the city jail. Lawyers for the City of New York began to gather documents to defend the lawsuit and discovered numerous official reports prepared by jail officials that had never been provided to defense lawyers for Westly and Bumbury.
The reports said that on the night of alleged assault, Davis told a fellow inmate, Shawn Patterson, that he was going to fabricate a sexual attack in order to obtain a transfer off the cellblock for himself and his lover. Patterson reported that Davis said this at about 8:20 p.m., which was after the time of the alleged attack.
Further, reports prepared by the corrections officers on duty that night showed that Davis waited 12 hours after the alleged assault to make a report to jail officers, even though Davis testified that he was distraught and hysterical immediately after the attack and that a female corrections officer had seen his reaction. The jail reports documented an interview with the female officer on duty during the time of the alleged attack in which she said she saw nothing unusual.
The reports documented numerous other contradictions to Davis’s trial testimony.
At trial, Davis testified that he had not “filed” a lawsuit against the city. However, the reports showed that at the time of trial, Assistant District Attorney Robert Gonzalez had had repeated contact with Davis’s civil attorney and was aware that Davis was already contemplating such a suit. The records undercut the prosecution’s argument at trial that Davis was credible because he was not attempting to cash in by suing for damages for the alleged attack.
In addition to the documents found by the civil lawyers, the lawyers preparing to appeal Westly and Bumbury’s convictions also discovered that another inmate at the jail gave a tape-recorded interview to the prosecution before trial. In the interview, the inmate said that he saw Davis and Rivers having sex on the night that Davis later said Westly and Bumbury sexually assaulted him.
Rivers later signed a sworn affidavit saying that Davis was not assaulted and that Davis told him that if he corroborated Davis’s claim of an assault, they would both get rich.
In October 2001, a motion to vacate the conviction was filed and in November 2001, Westly and Bumbury were released on bond. The Bronx County District Attorney’s Office re-investigated the case, and in February 2002, joined the defense motion to vacate their convictions. On March 5, 2002, the convictions were vacated and the charges were dismissed.
After the dismissal, Bumbury, who had immigrated to the U.S. from Guyana when he was six years old, was arrested by federal immigration authorities who sought to deport him because of the conviction—even though the conviction had been vacated and the charges dismissed. Bumbury’s prior conviction did not make him eligible for deportation.
Federal authorities did not release Bumbury until 2006, after he filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Bumbury then filed a lawsuit in the New York Court of Claims seeking compensation for his wrongful conviction, but the case was dismissed. Westly did not seek compensation.
In the meantime, the city of New York settled the lawsuit brought by Davis for $150,000.
– Maurice Possley
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.