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Reginald Connor

Other New York Exonerations With Inadequate Legal Defense
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On January 1, 1992, the partially-clad and battered body of 16-year-old Jennifer Negron was found on the street in Brooklyn, New York. Negron, the first of about 2,000 homicides in New York City that year, had been stabbed and raped.

A week later, police arrested 23-year-old Everton Wagstaffe based on the word of 25-year-old Brunilda Capella, a drug-addicted sex worker who said she discovered the body. Capella said that she saw Wagstaffe grab Negron and pull her into the car that 23-year-old Reginald Connor was driving. She identified a Buick Skylark as the car that was used to abduct the victim. Police towed the car in for examination and found a black headband that relatives of Negron said they believed was Negron’s. No forensic tests were ever conducted on the headband.

Connor was arrested on January 31, 1992 and he and Wagstaffe were charged with murder and kidnapping. Both men told police they were not involved in the crime.

They went to trial in Kings County Supreme Court in January 1993. The prosecution’s case rested primarily on the testimony of Capella, who said she saw Wagstaffe and Connor abduct Negron in the Skylark, as well as testimony of other witnesses who vouched for Capella’s credibility. Capella was kept in a locked hospital ward for heroin withdrawal for three days prior to the trial to make sure she would be present in court to testify.

Capella testified that although she saw the abduction, she did not go to police for three days because she was scared.

In addition, three witnesses testified that they believed a black headband found in the car belonged to Negron.

On January 27, 1993, the jury convicted Wagstaffe and Connor of second-degree kidnapping. The judge refused to permit the jury to consider murder charges because of a lack of evidence implicating Wagstaffe and Connor in Negron’s death. Both men were sentenced to 12.5 to 25 years in prison.

Connor was released on parole in 2004. Wagstaffe remained in prison because he refused to accept any release on parole that would suggest he was involved in the crime or had acknowledged guilt.

By 2009, DNA tests had been performed on hairs found on the victim’s body and revealed the DNA profiles of two unknown people, but not Wagstaffe or Connor. Both Connor and Wagstaffe took polygraph examinations and both were assessed as being truthful when they denied any involvement in the crime.

In 2010, a hearing was held on a motion for new trial filed on behalf of Wagstaffe and Connor. The owner of the car that Capella said was used to abduct Negron testified that she drove the car to a church service on New Year’s Eve and that the car was parked at the church (actually blocked in by a row of double-parked cars) until about 5:30 in the morning of New Year’s Day—hours after Capella said she saw the abduction. The car’s owner also testified that the headband found in the vehicle actually belonged to her daughter.

In addition, the woman testified that police had interviewed her at the time and she told them where the car was parked. Police did not write any reports of that interview and did not inform the prosecution of the woman’s statement. Consequently, the defense was not informed. At the time of the trial, the defense lawyer for Wagstaffe and Connor also failed to seek out the owner of the car.

The defense also presented evidence at the hearing that Capella had been providing information to the police on numerous occasions—from “seventeen to 20 times”—although she was not formally listed as an informant. The defense argued that evidence should have been provided by the prosecution at the trial because it undermined Capella’s claim that she delayed reporting the crime because she was too scared to go the police.

The defense also located a computer record showing that detectives had gathered information on Conner and Wagstaffe a day before they said they first interviewed Capella about the killing. That information was disclosed to the defense during jury selection in January 1993 but its importance was not recognized by the defense. Connor’s lawyer argued at the 2010 hearing that instead of Capella coming forward on her own to implicate Connor and Wagstaffe, the police had presented the two names to Capella and she had agreed to implicate them. Capella did not testify at the hearing because she had died in 1999.

In October 2013, New York Supreme Court Justice Sheryl Parker denied the motion for new trial. In September 2014, the Appellate Division for the Second Department of the Supreme Court reversed Parker’s decision, vacated the kidnapping convictions and ordered the indictments dismissed. Wagstaffe was released from prison on September 23, 2014.

The Appellate Division ruled that there was “a reasonable probability” that the computer records, “had they been properly identified and exchanged (by the prosecution) in such a manner so that they could be used in a meaningful fashion during the cross-examination of Capella and the detectives, would have changed the outcome” of the trial. The court said that the prosecution was responsible for “burying” the documents that could have showed that Capella and the detectives had lied.

“The documents call into question whether Capella provided the detectives with the identities of the defendants or if the detectives, without an evidentiary basis, had identified Connor and Wagstaffe prior to Capella’s identification of them, thus bearing negatively upon the credibility of Capella and the investigating detectives,” the court said.

The Kings County District Attorney’s office sought a rehearing on the decision, but on July 27, 2015, the motion for a rehearing was denied.

In 2017, Connor and Wagstaffe settled their claims for wrongful conviction for $25,578,000, with $6 million coming from the state of New York and the remaining more than $19 million coming from the city of New York. Connor was awarded $11 million and Wagstaffe's settlement was $14,578,000

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 8/2/2015
Last Updated: 6/14/2017
State:New York
County:Kings
Most Serious Crime:Kidnapping
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1992
Convicted:1993
Exonerated:2015
Sentence:12.5 to 25 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:23
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes*