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Duquene Pierre

Other Murder Exonerations with Mistaken Witness ID
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At about 3:20 a.m. on March 20, 1994, a group of African-American men were standing on the sidewalk in Elizabeth, New Jersey, when several cars, one of them a black Acura Legend, pulled up and multiple shots were fired. Twenty-one-year-old Jerry Myers was robbed of his jewelry and shot to death and 22-year-old Karon Henderson was wounded by gunfire.

Police said the shooters were Haitians who were seeking revenge because one of their friends had been shot in an earlier incident. Witnesses said that some of the shots were fired by a man who emerged from a black Acura Legend automobile.

In July 1994, a Union County grand jury indicted four Haitian men for the shooting: 22-year-old Duquene Pierre; 22-year-old Jean Dorval; 21-year-old James Louis and 22-year-old Macgoohan Romelus. Pierre was the owner of a Black Acura Legend. All four were charged with murder, aggravated assault, robbery, and illegal use of a weapon.

In July 1995, Romelus was convicted of murder, robbery and illegal use of a weapon. He was sentenced to 70 years in prison.

Pierre, Dorval and Louis went to trial in Union County Superior Court in January 1996. Kim Minus, who was on the street at the time of the shooting, testified for the prosecution that she was 100 percent sure that Pierre was one of the gunmen. She said she identified Pierre in a photographic lineup shown to her by police several months after the shooting.

Eddie Henderson, a relative of Karon Henderson, testified that he was 70 percent sure that Pierre was one of the gunmen—although he admitted that, prior to the trial, he told police he believed Pierre was the driver of the black Acura Legend.

Pierre presented an alibi defense—a speeding ticket issued to him in Yemassee, South Carolina at 11:34 p.m.—about 750 miles from the shooting, which occurred about four hours later in Elizabeth.

Pierre’s defense attorney presented a record of a collect telephone call made to Pierre’s girlfriend, Yashonda Reid, at 12:32 a.m., from a location in South Carolina south of Yemassee. Reid testified that Pierre was traveling to Florida to visit relatives.

The prosecution contended that the driver of the car in Yemassee and the person who made the phone call was not Pierre, but his twin brother, Kirby.

Dorval’s attorney claimed that Dorval was traveling with Pierre and presented a handwriting expert who said that a hotel registration form in Savannah, Georgia had been filled out and signed by Dorval.

Louis admitted being present at the time of the shooting, but denied he was involved.

On February 15, Dorval, Pierre and Louis were convicted of murder, assault, robbery and weapons offenses. They were sentenced to 60 years in prison.

After several years of hearings and appeals, Pierre’s convictions were reversed by the New Jersey Supreme Court in December 2015. The court held that Pierre’s trial defense attorney had provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to call Pierre’s brother, Kirby, and sister, Astrid, to testify that at the time of the crime, Kirby did not know how to drive and did not travel to Florida.

In addition, the defense attorney failed to present the remainder of the record of phone calls made to Reid which showed a series of calls made from locations progressively farther south and finally from Florida. Finally, three of Pierre’s relatives would have testified that Pierre visited them in Florida in March 1994 and none of them were contacted by the defense attorney at the time of Pierre’s trial.

In July 2016, Pierre went on trial for a second time in Union County Superior Court, represented by a new legal team of Linda Mehling, who had argued Pierre’s case to the state Supreme Court, as well as lawyers Don DiGioia, Frank Krack and Michael Simon.

The prosecution again called Kim Minus and Eddie Henderson to testify. Both, during extensive cross-examination by DiGioia, admitted that they were never sure that Pierre was at the scene of the crime. Minus admitted that when she viewed the photographic lineup and identified Pierre, it was a “guess.” Henderson admitted that in fact he was not only no longer sure that Pierre was at the scene, but that another man in the photographic lineup he viewed was more likely the person he saw at the scene. When DiGioia pointed out that this other man was merely a “filler” who was in the lineup but had nothing to do with the crime, Henderson said he really was not sure at all that Pierre was there.

After those two witnesses completed their testimony, DiGioia made a motion to acquit Pierre. The judge granted the motion and Pierre was released.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 7/13/2016
State:New Jersey
County:Union
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Robbery, Assault, Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:1994
Convicted:1996
Exonerated:2016
Sentence:60 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:22
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No