On June 5, 2003, Maurice Brown, a reputed drug dealer, was fatally shot on the street near Foote Street and 60th Street Northeast in Washington, D.C.
One day later, Chandra Cooley-Hinton, a prostitute and drug user, was arrested by Metropolitan Police for an unrelated charge and immediately volunteered that she had information about the murder. Detective Erick Brown took a statement in which Cooley-Hinton implicated 26-year-old Michael Longus.
Based on Cooley-Hinton’s statement, Longus was charged with first-degree murder and possession of a firearm in the commission of a crime and went on trial in the District of Columbia Superior Court in March 2005. The prosecution contended that Maurice Brown was killed because he had robbed Longus.
At the trial, Cooley-Hinton testified that she was sitting in a parked car getting ready to smoke cocaine when she saw a man dressed in black, whom she identified as the victim, walk across Foote Street. She said that as he was crossing the street, a truck came by, shots were fired and Brown was killed. Cooley-Hinton testified that she had been arrested for possession of cocaine and while she was being processed, she offered details of the killing.
Cooley-Hinton said there were two people in the truck, that Longus was driving and that the passenger fired the fatal shots. She also testified that either the same day or the day after Maurice Brown was killed, she talked with Longus as he sat in his truck at the corner where Longus sold drugs—one block from the shooting. Cooley-Hinton said she asked Longus why he would “do that on our street and make it hot around here?” She said Longus told her that Maurice Brown should not have “messed with my shit.”
The defense cross-examined Cooley-Hinton with a copy of the police report prepared by Detective Erick Brown, whose written account from Cooley-Hinton was starkly different from her testimony. In the report, Detective Brown quoted her as saying that she saw a person she knew as “L” walk up on Maurice Brown, engaged in “in some type of transaction,” and then shot Maurice Brown three times and fled on foot. Cooley-Hinton maintained that the report was wrong and that her testimony was accurate.
The prosecution also called Shannon Scott as a witness. Scott, also a prostitute, testified that she was smoking crack when she saw a blue truck drive down 60th Street, turn onto Foote Street and stop in front of Maurice Brown where shots were fired. Scott said that Longus was alone in the truck and leaned across the passenger seat to shoot Maurice Brown.
Scott testified that she talked to Longus the day of the shooting or the next day at his regular corner and told him she had heard he shot Maurice Brown. Scott told the jury that Longus said that Maurice Brown “shouldn’t have been up here robbing people.”
The defense called four witnesses. Veria Brickhouse testified that she lived in the building right next to where the shooting occurred. She heard gunshots, looked outside and saw a neighborhood youth she knew only as “L” drive down the street and stop in front of Maurice Brown. “L” called up to Brickhouse to call police. She did so and soon after, but before police arrived, Longus walked up with a companion she did not know. She said Longus spoke to “L” and then walked over to Eastern Avenue, got in his truck, drove back and picked up “L” and left.
Shirlette Lewis testified that she was with Shannon Scott in an alley when they heard gunshots and heard a truck drive away. Lewis said she and Scott remained in the alley and that there was no way that Scott could have seen the shooting.
A defense investigator testified that the distance from where Lewis said she and Scott were was 194 feet from where Brown was shot and that vehicles and pedestrians on the street were not visible.
The fourth defense witness was Detective Erick Brown, who took the original statement from Cooley-Hinton and whose report said she was arrested not for cocaine, but for prostitution. Detective Brown testified that Cooley-Hinton said “L” did the shooting and that she never mentioned Longus or the truck. Although the report said that “L” walked up, Detective Brown testified that Cooley-Hinton actually said that “L” “drove up.” Detective Brown said this was a typographical error.
The defense then sought to impeach the detective by questioning him about a federal investigation of allegations that he and another Metropolitan Police detective had coached witnesses to change their accounts about a homicide at a Washington, D. C. nightclub known as Club U. The investigation was revealed in The Washington Post just before Longus’s trial began.
The judge asked the prosecution if the newspaper article was accurate. The prosecution told the court: “It's not inaccurate. [Detective Brown is] under investigation.” The defense lawyers demanded that the prosecution disclose witness statements “so that we can, if necessary, show the jury, prove to the jury that [Detective Brown] does have a reason to testify falsely at this trial.”
But the trial judge only allowed the defense to ask Detective Brown if he were being investigated for coaching. The judge ruled that asking anything further was a “fishing expedition” and would unduly delay the trial. So limited, Longus’s lawyers asked Detective Brown about the pending investigation and he acknowledged that he was being investigated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and that he had been suspended from the police department. Detective Brown, however, denied the suggestion that he had coached any witness in the Club U investigation.
In closing argument—despite testimony that “L” and Longus were different people—the prosecution argued that Longus was, in fact, “L.” On March 11, 2005, the jury convicted Longus of second-degree murder and possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
While the conviction was on appeal, defense lawyers discovered that on the very day that Detective Brown testified at Longus’s trial, witnesses told federal prosecutors that three weeks earlier they had changed their accounts of the Club U murder under pressure from Detective Brown. One witness said that she changed her account to describe a “swinging” motion rather than a stabbing motion and another witness said she changed her description of the murder weapon to something that was “silver,” instead of a box cutter because a box cutter was not the murder weapon.
In 2007, Longus’s lawyers filed a post-conviction motion for a new trial arguing that Brown falsely testified when he said no witness in the Club U investigation had changed her testimony. The motion was denied.
In August of 2007, Detective Brown and another detective, Milagros Morales, who had been indicted in the witness coaxing case, were acquitted of federal charges arising from the investigation of witnesses changing their testimony in the Club U case.
The denial of the defense motion for a new trial was consolidated with the appeal of the conviction and in September 2012, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial. The court held that Longus’s defense had been unfairly deprived information from the prosecution regarding the investigation of Detective Brown and deprived of the right to fully cross-examine Detective Brown about the Club U investigation.
“Detective Brown’s testimony could have come under a cloud if the jury believed that just as he was capable of the witness tampering in the Club U case for which he was under investigation, he would be willing to lie under oath to the jury in this case in order to secure a conviction,” the court said. “The impairment of the right of cross-examination was prejudicial....”
On August 14, 2013, the prosecution dismissed the charges and Longus was released.
– Maurice Possley