At about 10 p.m. on April 4, 1986, Nelson Vouse left the house of a friend at 651 Hinsdale Street in Brooklyn on foot. At about the same time, 19-year-old Christopher Livingston left the front porch of a house at 626 Hinsdale Street on the opposite side of the street where he had been talking to two girls.
Livingston and Vouse, who knew each other, but not well, were both walking in the same direction. As they passed a house at 665 Hinsdale Street, they were walking side by side. At that moment, a single gunshot rang out and Vouse was fatally struck in the chest. Livingston fled.
Livingston was identified as walking along side Vouse at the time of the shooting. When police interviewed him, he said that earlier in the day, he had been confronted by a Hispanic man who fired a shot at him. He denied shooting Vouse or even having a gun at the time of the shooting.
On April 9, 1986, a New York police crime lab technician found gunshot residue on Vouse’s clothing and concluded that the shot had been fired at close range. Because Livingston was the only person close enough to Vouse to have fired the fatal shot, he was charged with second-degree murder.
Livingston went on trial in Kings County Supreme Court in the summer of 1987. The crime lab technician testified that based on the amount of gunshot residue found on the clothing, she believed the shot that killed Vouse was fired from less than five feet away.
Witnesses testified that the only person that close to Vouse was Livingston, although none of the witnesses said they saw a gun or saw Livingston fire a gun. In fact, two witnesses said that Livingston and Vouse both had their hands in their pockets when the shot was fired.
A jury convicted Livingston of second-degree murder and criminal possession of a firearm, although no gun was ever found. Livingston was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.
In 1990, the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court reversed the convictions and ordered a new trial. The court held that the judge had given faulty jury instructions.
In January 1991, Livingston went on trial for a second time. Livingston’s attorney presented the testimony of a woman who lived on Hinsdale Street and said that she had seen a man come out of a house where drugs were sold daily and fire a shot toward Livingston. She said that Livingston never had a gun and ran after Vouse was shot.
Peter De Forest, a criminalistics professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, testified for the defense that based on his analysis of the gunshot residue, there was no way to say definitively how close the gun was to Vouse when it fired the shot that killed him.
“The bottom line is I don’t know whether this (gunshot) is within five feet or outside of five feet,” De Forest said. “It’s simply not determinative.”
On January 25, 1991, a jury acquitted Livingston and he was released. Livingston sought compensation in the New York Court of Claims, but his claim was denied. In July 1992, Livingston was sitting in his car in the Bronx when a man on a motorcycle pulled up next to him and fatally shot him.
– Maurice Possley