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Deshawn Reed

Other Alameda County Exonerations
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On the afternoon of March 5, 2010, 29-year-old Victor Johns and 56-year-old John Jones were among a group of people drinking beer on a porch in West Oakland, California, when a man wearing a black hooded sweatshirt walked up and, after asking what they were up to, pulled a pistol and began shooting.

Jones and Johns were killed. Jones died of a single bullet wound in the leg that pierced his femoral artery and he bled to death. Johns was shot in the back, hip, thigh, and wrist.

Witnesses said the gunman got into the front passenger seat of a black car that sped off.

Robert Dehoyos, a mail carrier, heard the shots and flagged down Oakland police officer Michael Osanna, who was on patrol in his squad car nearby. As Osanna drove toward the shooting, a black car drove past him. Osanna later said he recognized the driver as Jason Watts, but he did not recognize the man in the passenger seat. Osanna continued on to the scene of the shooting, where witnesses said the gunman got into a black car that sped off.

Osanna began driving around the neighborhood. A couple of blocks away from the scene of the shooting, he saw the black car parked on the side of the street. He saw two men about 15 yards away, running. Osanna caught up to them in his car and saw that one was Watts. Osanna would later testify that he recognized the other man as the person who was sitting in the passenger seat of the black car.

Osanna stopped his car, drew his pistol, and ordered both men to the ground. Watts immediately complied, but the other man—26-year-old Deshawn Reed—kept walking and refused to obey. Reed finally complied after Osanna repeated the command six or seven times. Osanna handcuffed Watts and assisted another officer who had arrived in handcuffing Reed. No guns and no ammunition were found in the area or in the car. While Watts was wearing a black hoodie, Reed was wearing a plaid jacket. No other hoodie was found in the car or immediate area.

Two witnesses were brought from the scene of the shooting to view Watts and Reed. Henry Martinez, who said he saw the shooting, identified the black car as the vehicle that fled the scene. Martinez also identified Reed as the gunman, although he noticed that Reed was not wearing a black hoodie.

Alisha Tackitt, who was walking her dogs at the time of the shooting, told police she saw a black car driving slowly toward her. There were two men in the car and both were wearing black hoodies. The car pulled to the curb and the passenger got out and walked around the corner. Tackitt said she heard gunshots and then saw the man who had left the car get back into the passenger seat.

Police brought Tackitt to Watts and Reed, who were being held in two separate police cars. According to a police report, she was unable to identify Reed, but identified Watts as the man who was in the passenger seat of the black car.

Reed and Watts were arrested. They were each charged with first-degree murder in the death of Johns and second-degree murder in the death of Jones.

Prior to trial, DNA testing was performed on two baseball caps found in the back seat of the black car, which records showed that Watts owned. DNA on one of the caps matched a man named Al Collins. Not long after the arrests, Oakland police officer Keith Dodds informed Detectives that he had been patrolling in the area of the shooting on the afternoon of the crime. A short time after the shots were fired, he saw Collins walking down a street near where Watts and Reed were first stopped and handcuffed. Detectives later testified that Collins was investigated and questioned. When he denied involvement, he was dismissed as a suspect, even though his DNA was found on a cap in the car.

Reed’s defense attorney got a mental evaluation of Reed. In January 2012, Reed was found mentally incompetent to stand trial and committed to the California Department of Mental Health. In February 2013, Reed was declared competent to stand trial. By that time, a jury had convicted Watts of murder based on the testimony of witnesses that he was the driver of the black car. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Reed went to trial in Alameda County Superior Court in April 2014. Osanna described how he spotted the black car and handcuffed Watts and Reed. Tackitt testified that she identified two suspects who were in separate police cars near the scene of the shooting. She said she was “100 percent confident” that Reed was one of those two men, though she could not remember whether he was the driver or the passenger. She said she had made eye contact with the passenger when the car passed her and that “one of his eyes was lazy.”

In fact, police reports showed that Tackitt had failed to identify Reed at the time and identified Watts as the gunman who got into the passenger seat. Reed’s lawyer, however, failed to cross-examine Tackitt about this discrepancy.

A detective testified that no fingerprints were found in the car, and that no gun or black hoodie was ever found.

Anne Keeler, a criminalist with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office crime lab, testified that when Reed arrived at the Oakland Police Department, his hands were swabbed for gunshot residue. Keeler said she found four microscopic particles of gunshot residue on the swab taken of Reed’s right hand.

Keith Dodds, the Oakland police officer who had reported seeing Al Collins—the man whose DNA was found on a baseball cap in the black car—near the scene of the shooting, testified for the defense. Dodds testified that he had known Reed for years while working in the neighborhood and that Reed had a reputation as a non-violent person. Just a few hours before the shooting, Dodds said he shooed Reed away from a nearby high school because he was smoking on the grounds.

Dodds also testified that when he saw Collins shortly after the shooting, Collins was wearing a black hoodie and standing on the street, bent over with his hands on his knees. Dodds at first thought that Collins was sick, but later concluded that Collins “had just finished running and he was (b)ent over.” Dodds said he intended to get out of his patrol car and question Collins, but at that moment, he was notified by police radio that Watts and Reed had been detained and his assistance was needed. Dodds said when he got to the scene of the arrest, he recognized Reed and that he was wearing the same plaid jacket he was wearing when Dodds rousted him for smoking at the school. Dodds testified that he was then assigned to secure the black car. The car, he then realized, was parked about 250 feet from where he saw Collins bent over.

Reed’s lawyer sought to introduce additional evidence suggesting that Collins—not Reed—was the gunman. At a hearing held outside the presence of the jury, Dodds testified that he had seen Collins and Watts together in the past. On March 4, 2010—the day before Jones and Johns were murdered—a man named Tyler Jamison had been shot. Watts’s brother drove Jamison to the hospital. Dodds testified that he had gotten “reliable information” that Victor Johns had shot Jamison. Dodds also said some time before the shooting of Jamison, Johns shot another man in the leg. Dodds testified that he believed that shooting people in the leg was the way Johns “dealt with people on the streets.” Dodds believed that Collins and Watts were in the black car and that Collins shot Jones and Johns to avenge the shooting of Jamison.

But the trial judge denied the defense motion to allow the testimony about Collins, even after the prosecutor told the judge that he was concerned—given the DNA evidence that linked Collins to the cap found in the black car—that the judge was making a mistake in barring the defense evidence. The prosecutor said that not allowing the evidence “may create an issue for the appellate court,” but the judge still refused to allow the evidence to come before the jury.

The prosecutor, in closing argument, told the jury that Dodds’s testimony that he saw Collins about 250 from the black car was wrong. It was more likely, he argued, that Collins was more than 500 feet from the car.

On May 9, 2014, the jury convicted Reed of one count of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In January 2017, the California Court of Appeals reversed Reed’s convictions and ordered a new trial. In a lengthy opinion, the appellate court found judicial error, prosecutorial misconduct, false testimony by police, and a litany of failures by Reed’s defense lawyer that culminated in a “miscarriage of justice."

The court held that the trial judge should have allowed the evidence pointing to Collins as the gunman, and noted that even the prosecution warned the judge that refusing to allow the evidence was grievous error.

The court found misconduct by police and the prosecutor. In particular, the detective who told the jury that no fingerprints were found the car had testified falsely. In fact, a palm print belonging to Collins was found on the rear view mirror of the black car. The court noted that Reed’s defense lawyer had a police report revealing the presence of the palm print, but never confronted the detective about his false testimony.

The appeals court further found that the prosecutor engaged in misconduct by allowing the detective to testify falsely that no fingerprints were found in the car. The court noted that the palm print was stronger evidence than the DNA on the cap, which could have been placed in the back seat of the car “without Collins ever being there.” The palm print on the rear view mirror, however, “proved that Collins was in the car, almost certainly in the front seat. The palm print evidence thus would have provided additional direct, incontrovertible physical evidence that Collins had been present at some point in the getaway car.” The prosecutor had also allowed Tackitt to testify that she had correctly identified Watts and Reed at the scene, when in fact she had not done so. Moreover, the prosecutor’s argument about the distance Collins was from the black car was “misconduct…The prosecutor’s comments thus were not based on the evidence, nor were they a matter of common knowledge.”

The appeals court also found that Reed’s trial lawyer had provided an inadequate legal defense in several critical areas. He failed to call two witnesses who told police they saw the black car leaving the scene and that the passenger was not Reed, and never cross-examined Tackitt, the eyewitness, about her inability to identify Reed immediately after the shooting.

The court also noted that Reed’s lawyer failed to bring in an expert on gunshot residue to testify that a person can pick up residue from police officers who handcuff suspects after handling a gun or from sitting in the back of a squad car while being taken to a police station.

Likewise, the appeals court held, he should have called an expert witness to testify about confabulation—the communication of false information by an individual who believes he or she is telling the truth. The court noted that police officer Osanna testified that when he saw the black car speed past him, the passenger wore a plaid jacket—which Reed was wearing when Osanna arrested him moments later, 15 yards from the black car. The defense had argued that Osanna honestly thought he saw the plaid jacket during the three seconds he saw the passenger in the black car, but it was more likely that Osanna, based on his more extended contact with Reed after the arrest, actually had not seen the jacket at all.

The court also criticized Reed’s defense lawyer for failing to present evidence documenting Reed’s mental disability to help explain why Reed failed to obey the numerous police commands to stop walking and get down on the ground. The court noted that the prosecution had persuaded the trial judge to instruct the jury that it could interpret Reed’s failure to immediately obey the police commands as consciousness of guilt. Had Reed’s lawyer presented evidence of Reed’s “borderline intellectual functioning,” the jury could have been provided an “innocent explanation for his conduct.”

The court recited numerous other areas where Reed’s defense lawyer had failed to provide an adequate defense. The lawyer failed to investigate information from the prosecution that a jail inmate said that Watts had said that Collins “got away with the gun.” He also failed to challenge the police testimony that Collins had been thoroughly investigated, even though Collins had claimed he never had been in Watts’s car and had never left any personal items in the vehicle—assertions contradicted by the palm print and the cap with his DNA. Collins had also falsely claimed he was in Berkeley, California at the time of the shooting, even though officer Dodds saw him bent over on the street near the scene of the shooting just after the shots were fired.

In its ruling, the court said that “the errors so compromised petitioner’s trial that the result cannot stand…. Petitioner has suffered a miscarriage of justice.”

Four months later, on May 16, 2017, the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office dismissed the murder charges against Reed and he was released.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 5/30/2017
State:California
County:Alameda
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2010
Convicted:2014
Exonerated:2017
Sentence:Life without parole
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:26
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No