On July 25, 1996, two youths on bicycles rode up to a building in the Bronx, New York. One opened fire with a handgun and both rode off. Twelve-year-old Lamont Jones was struck and killed.
Police were called and after witnesses said the attackers were on bicycles, they began searching the neighborhood. The following day, police spotted 37-year-old Lawrence Fowler, who worked as a bicycle messenger, riding his bicycle near the area of the shooting.
Detectives brought Fowler to a detective’s car nearby and, shortly thereafter, a police patrol car drove by carrying two witnesses. Both witnesses told police that Fowler was the gunman.
Fowler was arrested and charged with second degree murder and illegal use of a firearm. At the time, Fowler was in a work-release program after pleading guilty to manslaughter and robbery several years earlier. He worked for the messenger service five days a week and spent five nights a week at home and the weekends in the Fulton Correctional Facility in the Bronx.
Fowler went on trial in Bronx County Supreme Court in April 1998. The two witnesses told the jury that Fowler was the gunman.
Fowler called 11 witnesses, some of whom testified that Fowler was elsewhere at the time of the crime and some of whom were at the scene of the shooting and said Fowler was not the gunman.
Among the witnesses who were at the scene of the shooting was Ricky Rivera, a gang member who testified that he was standing next to Jones when Jones was shot. Rivera testified that he believed he was the intended target and that the gunman was a rival gang member named “Cliff,” with whom he was feuding over the sale of drugs in the neighborhood.
Despite Rivera’s testimony, in May 1998, the jury convicted Fowler of second degree murder and illegal use of a firearm. He was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
In 2000, after Fowler had lost his appeals, his attorney received information that a man was telling people that Fowler was not the gunman. But when the attorney tried to interview the man, he refused to talk about the case.
In 2006, Bronx County Deputy District Attorney Daniel McCarthy notified Fowler’s attorney that during a federal investigation of street gangs, new evidence of Fowler’s innocence had been discovered. Investigators for the U.S. Attorney’s Office said they had interviewed a gang member turned informant who said that on the day of the shooting, he was a lookout for the gunman. The informant said that Fowler was not the gunman, according to McCarthy.
Based on that information, Fowler’s lawyer filed a motion to vacate Fowler’s conviction on August 1, 2006. The prosecution joined in the motion and on August 2, 2006, Bronx County Supreme Court Judge Ed Davidowitz granted the motion and vacated the conviction. The prosecution immediately dismissed the charges and Fowler was released.
Fowler later filed a claim for compensation in the New York Court of Claims and filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of New York. Both were dismissed.
– Maurice Possley