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Carlos Montilla

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On October 1, 1986, Boston police officer Albert LaFontaine arrested 22-year-old Carlos Montilla on charges of trafficking cocaine and possession of a handgun.

Montilla went to trial in Suffolk County Superior Court in July of 1988. LaFontaine testified that he was conducting surveillance of a Dorchester housing project building and saw Montilla, whom he described as having Michael Jackson-style curls, and another man, Pablo Osario, selling drugs outside of a public housing apartment building. LaFontaine testified that he had never seen Montilla before.

LaFontaine told the jury that Montilla went inside the building. The officer testified that he also went inside to continue his surveillance. LaFontaine said he was on a second floor landing, looking up a flight of stairs, when he saw three black men come into the building and go to apartment 3E on the third floor. They knocked and Montilla, clad only in his underwear, partially opened the door. LaFontaine said he saw Montilla standing, negotiating the price of a sale, but the sale was interrupted when one of the customers yelled “Five-O,” the street term for police. LaFontaine said the three men ran past him, down the stairs, as he stood there with his gun drawn.

LaFontaine testified that he then went up the stairs past the men and slammed into the apartment door. He said the door opened a few inches, but he was prevented from entering by a heavy chain. LaFontaine said he saw Montilla with a gun in his hand.

LaFontaine said he pointed his gun at Montilla and ordered him to freeze. Instead, Montilla fled toward the kitchen. LaFontaine said he radioed for his partner to try to intercept Montilla at the rear of the building. Meanwhile, other police arrived and used a hammer to get into the apartment.

Inside, officers recovered the gun LaFontaine said Montilla was holding, drug paraphernalia, including a scale, suspected cocaine, and cash. The rear apartment door was bolted shut from the inside, but the top half of a kitchen window was open and LaFontaine said he believed that was how Montilla had escaped. LaFontaine later testified that he found $940 in cash on the table, along with drugs and other drug-selling materials, a pay stub with Montilla’s name and Osario’s driver’s license.

Police officer Charles Burch testified that he was on patrol when he heard a radio broadcast about a suspected drug dealer fleeing the apartment and saw a man—Montilla—who fit the description standing in front of the Catania Club, a neighborhood social club located about a mile from the housing project. Although the radio said the man being sought was last seen clad only in underwear, Montilla was fully clothed.

Montilla was brought to the police station and forced to disrobe. LaFontaine testified that Montilla was wearing the underwear he saw earlier while conducting surveillance.

Defense witnesses testified that Montilla had spent the evening in the social club drinking beer and playing pool and that he was there at the time that LaFontaine said he saw Montilla in the apartment.

Montilla testified and denied selling drugs or ever being in the building where LaFontaine said he saw him with Osario. Montilla denied knowing Osario and testified that after he was brought to the police station, LaFontaine removed a paystub from Montilla’s wallet—the same pay stub that LaFontaine claimed he found in the apartment.

In July 1988, after three days of trial and two days of deliberation, a mistrial was declared because the jurors were deadlocked, with 11 voting to convict and one voting to acquit.

In October 1988, Montilla went to trial a second time and was convicted of cocaine trafficking and illegal possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to three to five years in prison.

Meanwhile, the juror who had held out for acquittal in the first trial, Linda Cox, was so convinced of Montilla’s innocence that she helped raise thousands of dollars and persuaded a prominent Boston law firm, Foley Hoag, and one of its leading attorneys, Michael Keating, to re-investigate Montilla’s case.

The re-investigation showed that it would have been impossible for LaFontaine to see the doorway of apartment 3E from the spot from which he claimed to have seen Montilla standing in that doorway in his underwear. Further, the law firm’s investigator had located Osario—the man who LaFontaine claimed was dealing drugs with Montilla—although Osario was a fugitive at the time.

Osario said that LaFontaine had arrested him some time after he arrested Montilla, but that he did not come to court after he was released on bond. Osario gave a sworn statement that LaFontaine took his driver’s license at the time of his arrest and he never saw it again.

In addition, Osario said that although he had lived at 223 Geneva Avenue at one time, he never dealt drugs and he never met Montilla.

The investigator determined that the window that LaFontaine claimed Montilla exited from opened side to side—not up and down—as LaFontaine had testified. Moreover, the investigation showed that it was highly unlikely that anyone could have dropped the 30 feet from the window to the ground without suffering some physical injury and Montilla had no signs of injury when he was arrested. In addition, eight residents provided sworn statements that they had never seen Montilla in the building.

The reinvestigation also uncovered evidence that LaFontaine testified falsely when he said he had never seen Montilla. In fact, in January 1987, nearly two years before Montilla was arrested, Montilla had broken off a romantic relationship with a woman named Evelyn Santiago, who was then married and in the process of divorcing her husband.

Evidence showed that LaFontaine was a friend of a police officer who lived in the same building where Santiago and her husband then resided and that he helped Santiago on several matters during the divorce proceedings that took place after Montilla was arrested.

On the day of a child custody hearing, LaFontaine came to district court in Dorchester with Santiago. Montilla also happened to be in the courthouse that day. Santiago approached Montilla and told him he would be going to jail “for three years.” The motion for a new trial said, “Santiago remains hostile and bitter toward Montilla as a result of Montilla’s terminating their affair and to this day states that she hopes Montilla ‘rots in jail.’”

In March 1990, Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Porada held a hearing on Montilla’s post-conviction petition. During that hearing, LaFontaine declined to answer any questions and asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Based on the evidence uncovered by the reinvestigation, Judge Porada ruled that “substantial doubt has been cast upon the veracity of the testimony offered by Officer LaFontaine at the time of (Montilla’s) trial.”

The judge vacated Montilla’s conviction and ordered a new trial. Montilla was released on bond.

In June 1990, LaFontaine was convicted of shaking down drug dealers and sentenced to three years in prison.

On August 9, 1990, Montilla moved to dismiss the case after the prosecution indicated that it would not call LaFontaine as a witness. The judge granted the motion.

Montilla later filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Boston, which was settled for an undisclosed sum. A separate default judgment for $750,000 was entered against LaFontaine.

In 2010, Cox published a book detailing her experience titled Lone Holdout: A Memoir.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 10/6/2016
State:Massachusetts
County:Suffolk
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:Gun Possession or Sale
Reported Crime Date:1986
Convicted:1988
Exonerated:1990
Sentence:3 to 5 years
Race:Hispanic
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:22
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No