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Donald Perrington

Other Manhattan Exonerations
Shortly after midnight on January 10, 2008, New York City police pulled over a car near 144th Street and Seventh Avenue in the Bronx because it was speeding and changing lanes without signaling.

The officers said they saw no movement by the four occupants of the car as they approached. One officer said the driver, Michael Arroyo, smelled of marijuana, so Arroyo and his passengers were ordered out of the car. Donald Perrington emerged from the front passenger seat. Karla Cornielle and 27-year-old Omar Shabazz got out of the back seat.

When the officers looked into the car, they saw a handbag in the back seat. Inside the handbag was a nine-millimeter pistol containing 11 hollow point bullets.

Police arrested all four people. The handbag was described as a women’s handbag and was inventoried as belonging to Cornielle. There was no evidence any marijuana had been smoked in the car, but Arroyo turned over a small amount of marijuana that he had in his pocket. Police said they confiscated an empty bottle of champagne and a bottle of cognac that were in the back seat of the car.

A grand jury later indicted Cornielle, Shabazz and Perrington on charges of second degree possession of a firearm under a “constructive possession” law which allows for prosecutions of everyone in a car if contraband is found in the vehicle that is not in the personal possession of one individual. The grand jury declined to indict Arroyo.

During a status hearing while the case was pending trial, Cornielle, who was free on bond, told her defense lawyer the gun was hers, that Shabazz and Perrington didn’t know she had it that night, and she couldn’t understand why she wasn’t being allowed to plead guilty so that Shabazz and Perrington, who were in jail, could be released.

At the request of Cornielle’s lawyer, Cornielle’s case was severed from the cases of Shabazz and Perrington. Cornielle went to trial in New York County Supreme Court first. She told the jury that the gun was not hers—although on cross-examination by the prosecution Cornielle admitted she had told her defense lawyer that the gun was hers. The jury acquitted Cornielle.

In December 2008, Shabazz and Perrington went to trial together in New York County Supreme Court. The officers testified that they found the gun with the butt sticking out of the handbag, which was on the back seat of the car between Shabazz and Perrington.

Defense lawyers sought to call Cornielle’s defense attorney as a witness to present Cornielle’s statement that the gun belonged to her and that Shabazz and Perrington did not know it was in the car. Cornielle, the defense lawyers said, was unavailable because she could not be located.

The trial judge refused to allow the testimony saying that Cornielle’s admission was unreliable given her denial at her trial.

On December 18, 2008, Perrington and Shabazz were each convicted of second degree possession of a weapon. Each was sentenced to eight years in prison.

A motion for new trial was denied and the Supreme Court’s Appellate Division upheld the convictions in 2011.

In October 2013, the New York Court of Appeals reversed the convictions and held that Cornielle’s defense lawyer should have been allowed to testify. Shabazz and Perrington were released on bond in December 2013 pending a retrial.

On June 30, 2014, the prosecution dismissed the charges against the two men.

Shabazz and Perrington (who changed his name to Donald Wallace) filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Kieran Kailer, the police officer that searched the car. The lawsuit claimed that the three men stopped at a Chinese restaurant so that Cornielle could go in and buy food. They circled the block several times until she emerged, the suit said.

 As soon as Cornielle, who was carrying her purse, got into the back seat, Kailer and his partner turned on their flashing light in their unmarked police car and Arroyo pulled over.

 The lawsuit said Kailer ordered Cornielle to leave the bag of food, so she left it atop her purse and got out. Kailer then searched the car and found the gun, the suit said. Kailer found the liquor bottles in the trunk and put them in the back seat and photographed them as if they had been found there. As of July 2015, the lawsuit was still pending.

Both men also filed claims in the New York Court of Claims.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 7/22/2015
Last Updated: 11/7/2016
State:New York
County:New York
Most Serious Crime:Weapon Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2008
Convicted:2008
Exonerated:2014
Sentence:8 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:30
Contributing Factors:
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No