Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Charles Pierre

Other Arson Cases
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Charles_Pierre.jpg
On August 1, 2002, firemen summoned to a burning apartment building in Rochester, New York, found two bodies inside. Evidence showed that 46-year-old Clara Sconiers and 50-year-old Thomas Reed had been beaten to death with a blunt instrument before the fire was intentionally started.

Police focused almost immediately on 36-year-old Charles Pierre, who had been Sconiers’ boyfriend until he moved out after they had a fight about a month before the crime.

Pierre was picked up for questioning after neighbors said they saw him on the street about the time the fire broke out. Although Pierre denied any involvement in the crime, he was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and arson.

Pierre went to trial in Monroe County Supreme Court in July 2003. A fire investigator testified that the blaze was intentionally set and that traces of an accelerant had been found in the debris.

No physical or forensic evidence linked Pierre to the crime. Witnesses testified that he and Sconiers had a physical confrontation about a month before the crime, after which Pierre moved out. Other witnesses told the jury that they saw Pierre on the street near the burning building about the time the fire started.

Pierre’s attorney had subpoenaed several witnesses to testify that they saw Pierre hanging laundry in his back yard just about the time the crime was believed to have occurred, but did not call them to testify.

On July 28, 2003, a jury convicted Pierre of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree arson. He was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

In 2007, a Rochester woman named Katharina Lawn was beaten to death in her Rochester apartment, which was then set ablaze in an apparent attempt to hide the murder.

In 2012, Rochester Police Investigator John Brennan was re-investigating the still-unsolved murder of Ms. Lawn, and focused on a possible suspect—Darrell Boyd. Brennan tracked down Boyd’s ex-wife who said that Boyd had confessed to her that he had committed the murders of Sconiers and Reed and set the apartment building on fire to cover it up.

Ultimately, Boyd was charged and convicted of the murder of Katharina Lawn in 2014 and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. At the same time, Van Henri White, a new attorney for Pierre, filed a motion for a new trial on behalf of Pierre, citing the new evidence that Boyd committed the crimes Pierre was convicted of as well.

At a hearing on the motion, Brennan testified that Boyd’s ex-wife broke into tears during their interview. “She told me she was crying because there was an individual in prison for two murders he did not commit,” Brennan testified.

Witnesses who claimed they saw Pierre near the building at the time of the fire also testified and admitted under cross-examination that they were less than positive and gave testimony inconsistent with their testimony at Pierre’s first trial.

White also presented testimony from one of two prison inmates who said that Boyd had admitted that he beat Sconiers and Reed to death with a baseball bat and then set the apartment on fire before fleeing.

One of those witnesses, Dolph Sturgis Jr., testified that he was working as a jailhouse paralegal when Boyd came to him for advice on the Lawn murder case. Sturgis said, “He was concerned about another murder…he had committed….It was two people in a house that he had killed and burned the house.”

In August 2014, Monroe County Supreme Court Justice Douglas Randall vacated Pierre’s convictions and ordered a new trial. The Monroe County District Attorney’s Office appealed the decision and in June 2015, the Appellate Division upheld the ruling.

Pierre went to trial a second time in August 2015. Just prior to the retrial, the prosecution disclosed a police report that had been prepared in 2005--a decade earlier and two years after Pierre was convicted. The report said that Boyd's wife (they were not yet divorced) called police during a fight with Boyd. At that time, she told the police that Boyd was responsible for the murders of Sconiers and Reed. The report quoted the woman as saying that an innocent man was in prison for the crime. However, the woman's statement apparently was ignored and the report was not disclosed to Pierre.

At the retrial, the defense presented the testimony about Boyd’s admissions as well as alibi witnesses who testified that Pierre was hanging laundry in his yard at his new residence at the time of the crime.

On August 13, 2015, the jury deliberated less than two hours before acquitting Pierre on the murder and arson charges. In September 2015, Pierre filed a claim for compensation in the New York Court of Claims. He also filed a lawsuit that was pending in federal court in April 2017.

– Maurice Possley

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date: 8/20/2015
Last Updated: 11/8/2016
State:New York
County:Monroe
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Arson
Reported Crime Date:2001
Convicted:2003
Exonerated:2015
Sentence:25 years to life
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:36
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No