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Lavell Jones

Other New York Exonerations with Co-Defendant Confessions
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On October 4, 1996, a group of men robbed Gregson Joseph and Camon Wyatt in the basement apartment of 23-year-old Erik Mitchell in Albany, New York. Mitchell was not home at the time.

Joseph and Wyatt said men forced their way into the apartment at gunpoint, tied them up with rope and then sprayed pepper spray into bags that were placed over their heads. The intruders looted the house and stole a car from the victims. Police suspected the crime was related to the sale of drugs.

Almost immediately after the crime, the police arrested Matthew Parsons for the crime and he implicated four others: Pierre Lyons, 19-year-old Lavell Jones, Zakee Abdul-Hameed and Abdul-Hameed’s cousin, 19-year-old Carl Dukes. Only Parsons and Abdul-Hameed, however, were charged with the crime.

More than four months later, on February 18, 1997, Joseph found Mitchell dead in the entryway to the basement apartment with a single gunshot wound to the head.

Police focused on the suspects from the robbery. Parsons, however, had an alibi. On February 26, police looked for Abdul-Hameed, who was free on bond. He, however, was not at home. Lyons was arrested for the October crime that same day, but he was not questioned about the murder.

The murder was still unsolved in April when Mitchell’s father offered a $3,000 reward for information. A few days later, on April 19, 1997, Albany detectives re-interviewed Parsons who said that Abdul-Hameed and Dukes went to the apartment to intimidate Joseph and that Dukes shot Mitchell.

Police brought Dukes in for questioning on September 8, 1997. At first, he denied any involvement in the October robbery or the February murder, but after several hours, police said Dukes admitted he shot Mitchell and then immediately recanted that statement. Ultimately, Dukes wrote out a statement, police said, that said he was the lookout and that Jones was the gunman.

In the statement, Dukes said that he and Jones, accompanied by Lyons, believed Mitchell planned to seek revenge for the October robbery. They confronted Mitchell, tempers flared, and Jones drew a gun, which allegedly belonged to Lyons, and the gun “went off.”

By this time, Parsons had pled guilty to the October crime and agreed to testify for the prosecution in return for a reduced sentence of 7½ to 15 years in prison. Confronted with a confession from Dukes that differed from Parsons’ statement, the prosecution threatened to cancel the deal. Parsons then made a new statement in which he no longer said that Abdul-Hameed was involved.

This new statement said that Dukes, Jones and Lyons went to the apartment to bribe Mitchell to agree to drop the charges from the October crime. When Mitchell refused, Dukes shot him, the statement said.

On October 30, 1997, Albany detectives went to New York City where Jones, who lived in Brooklyn, had been taken into custody. After about 12 hours, Jones admitted he was involved in the October crime, but denied any participation in the murder. The detectives then drove him to Albany and after a total of more than 30 hours of interrogation, police said Jones confessed that Dukes shot Mitchell and that he was present.

During the interrogation, police separately questioned Jones’ girlfriend, Sakina Mitchell, who later said she falsely implicated Jones after detectives told her that if she didn’t, Jones would get the death penalty.

After giving his statement, Jones made several telephone calls to family members, which were surreptitiously recorded by police. Jones insisted he was innocent and said he finally decided he had no choice but to give in. He said the police had indicated to him that he could get as little as five or 10 years in prison for the murder.

Dukes went to trial in Albany County Supreme Court in November 1998. He was convicted on November 17, 1998, largely on the basis of his confession as well as testimony from two jail inmates who said Dukes made incriminating statements about being involved in the murder. He also was convicted of robbery and burglary charges arising from the October 1996 crime. He was sentenced to 39 years to life in prison.

Jones went to trial in Albany County Supreme Court in May 1999. The prosecution’s case was based primarily on his confession and testimony from Abdul-Hameed linking Jones to the October crime.

Jones denied being involved and testified that his confession was false. He said that police threatened to physically assault him during the interrogation. The defense also presented several alibi witnesses who testified that Jones was in New York City on the day and at the time of the murder. In May 26, 1999, the jury convicted Jones of second-degree murder as well as burglary and robbery charges for the October 1996 crime. He was sentenced to 32½ years to life in prison.

Both men were unsuccessful in their appeals.

In September 2014, Jeffrey Conrad was arrested in Cleveland, Ohio, for the murder of his former girlfriend. While being questioned by Cleveland detectives, Conrad admitted that he murdered Mitchell and said that no one else was involved.

Conrad provided considerable details, including that Mitchell fell into a sitting position against the wall after he was shot. Conrad said that the murder was a robbery-gone-wrong and was not related to the October crime at Mitchell’s apartment.

He said he had learned that Mitchell was a drug dealer who likely had a large sum of cash in the apartment. Conrad said that when he pulled his gun, Mitchell grabbed for it and was shot in the head.

In light of Conrad’s confession, the Albany County District Attorney’s office began a re-investigation of the murder. In April 2016, petitions seeking to vacate the convictions were filed on behalf of Jones by Glenn Garber and Rebecca Freedman of the Exoneration Initiative and on behalf of Dukes by attorney Donald Savatta.

On July 7, 2016, Albany County District Attorney David Soares joined in the petitions. The convictions were vacated and the murder charges were dismissed. Dukes and Jones pled guilty to robbery charges stemming from the October 1996 crime. They were sentenced to 14 years in prison, which they had already served, and they were then released.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 7/12/2016
State:New York
County:Albany
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1997
Convicted:1999
Exonerated:2016
Sentence:37 1/2 years to life
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:19
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No