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Tyrone Groce

Other New York Robbery Cases
At 5:45 a.m. on December 10, 1991, Sean Bristol went to a police station in Brooklyn, New York, and said two men had just robbed him at gunpoint.

Bristol said his car broke down and the robbers approached and asked if they could help him fix the vehicle. After tinkering under the hood, however, the two men robbed him. Bristol said one robber, who was unarmed, was 5 feet 8 inches tall, 145 pounds, and had a beard and a mustache. He said the other robber, who had a pistol, was about 22 years old, 5 feet 7 inches tall, 140 pounds and had no facial hair.

The following day, Bristol saw a man he believed was the unarmed robber in a gas station near the scene of the robbery. He called police and they arrested Charles Wigfall, who was 5 feet 8 inches tall, weighed 145 pounds and had a beard and mustache.

During the next several weeks, Bristol drove through the neighborhood at various times looking for the other robber. On January 26, 1992, at about 5 p.m.—when it was dark—Bristol stopped his car in a crosswalk.

A man crossing the street cursed at Bristol for blocking his path and kept walking. Bristol called police because he believed the man was the gunman. Minutes later, police arrested 28-year-old Tyrone Groce. Bristol identified him as the gunman even though Groce was 5 feet 11 inches tall, weighed 163 pounds, had a beard and mustache and had a prominent gold tooth—none of which matched Bristol’s original description.

Groce and Wigfall were charged with armed robbery. Wigfall pled guilty and was sent to prison. Groce went to trial in Kings County Supreme Court in February 1992. Bristol testified that his car stalled and Wigfall approached him and offered to help get the car started. Bristol said he got out and raised the hood and that Wigfall tinkered briefly and determined there was a problem with the carburetor.

Bristol said he got back in the car and in minutes, Wigfall had fixed the car and Bristol was able to start the engine. As Wigfall approached the driver’s side window, the gunman—whom Bristol said was Groce—suddenly appeared and demanded his valuables.

The prosecution had brought Wigfall in from prison to testify, but they did not call him as a witness after he told them that Groce was not his partner in the robbery.

The defense, however, called Wigfall as a witness because Groce told his lawyer that he was talking to another prisoner about his case when he serendipitously bumped into Wigfall in the courthouse lockup prior to trial. Wigfall approached and asked him if he was charged with robbing Bristol. When Groce said that he was, Wigfall told him that he committed the crime with another man.

Wigfall testified for the defense that he saw Bristol’s car stall and that he approached Bristol with the hope of hustling Bristol out of some money for getting his car started.

Wigfall said the gunman was a man he only knew as “Blue” with whom he smoked crack and that he was shorter and not as heavy as Groce. Wigfall also testified that “Blue” was clean-shaven.

The prosecution cross-examined Wigfall extensively about his drug use and prior criminal convictions and suggested that Wigfall and Groce had concocted a false story of meeting unexpectedly in the lockup in an attempt to win Groce’s acquittal.

Groce testified in his own defense and denied any involvement in the crime. His attorney offered a photograph of Groce taken at a family gathering several years prior to the crime showing his gold tooth, as proof that he had the gold tooth on the date of incident. The judge refused to allow the photograph into evidence.
 
Groce’s lawyer argued to the jury that since Bristol was about 5 feet 4 inches tall and both the robbers were taller, he was likely accurate in his initial descriptions of the height of the robbers, particularly when he said the unarmed robber was taller than the gunman. The lawyer argued that Groce could not be the gunman because he was taller than Wigfall.

On February 9, 1993, the jury convicted Groce of armed robbery. Prior to sentencing, the defense filed a motion for a new trial. The defense presented a sworn affidavit from a jail guard who said that he saw and heard the conversation between Wigfall and Groce. The defense said that it had attempted to bring the guard to the trial to testify, but that the guard was on vacation and efforts to reach him were unsuccessful.

The guard said that if he had been called to testify at the trial he would have told the jury that based on his observations and the nature of their conversation, Wigfall and Groce had never before met and that Groce was astonished to learn that Wigfall was one of the two real robbers. The guard said that he heard Wigfall tell Groce that another man was involved in the crime.

The motion for new trial was denied, however, and Groce was sentenced to four to 12 years in prison.

Groce appealed his conviction as well as the denial of the motion for new trial. In March 1995, the New York State Supreme Court’s Appellate Division reversed Groce’s conviction on the ground that it was against the weight of the evidence and ordered the conviction dismissed. Groce was released from prison.

Groce later filed a compensation claim with the New York Court of Claims, but his claim was denied.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 9/30/2014
State:New York
County:Kings
Most Serious Crime:Robbery
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1991
Convicted:1993
Exonerated:1995
Sentence:4 to 12 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:28
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No