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Sean Gaines

Other Plea Exonerations in New York
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On December 8, 2015, a guard at the Auburn Correctional Facility in Auburn, New York accused 28-year-old inmate Sean Gaines of illegally possessing a weapon fashioned from a razor blade.

The guard, Matthew Cornell, reported that Gaines was caught carrying the weapon during a search.

In early December 2016, the Cayuga County District Attorney’s Office offered Gaines a deal. If he would plead guilty to the charge of promoting prison contraband, the prosecution would agree to a sentence of 1½ to three years in prison. That sentence would be consecutive to the sentence of 9 to 11 years he was currently serving for assault.

Gaines’s attorney, Joseph Sapio, said Gaines claimed he was innocent and that Cornell had planted the weapon. However, on December 12, 2016, Gaines accepted the offer and pled guilty because he believed that if he went to trial, jurors would believe the guard’s testimony.

Two weeks later, the Cayuga County District Attorney’s Office announced that 33-year-old Matthew Cornell had admitted that he planted a weapon on a different inmate at the Auburn prison.

District attorney Jon Budelman revealed that Cornell admitted planting the weapon on the inmate. The inmate was a member of a prison gang, and Cornell wanted the inmate to be transferred to another prison to try to break up the gang.

Because of Cornell’s admission, the inmate involved in that incident was not charged with a crime. However, Budelman then asked a Cayuga County Supreme Court judge to vacate the convictions of Gaines and four other inmates, all of whom had pled guilty to promoting prison contraband even though they claimed at the time that the weapons had been planted. In all five cases, Cornell was the guard who said he found the weapons.

On January 29, 2017, Gaines’s conviction was vacated and the charge was dismissed.

That same month, convictions of Thomas Ozzborn, Naythen Aubain, Donnesia Brown, and Jose Muniz were vacated and the charges were dismissed. All of them—like Gaines—had pled guilty to possessing a weapon in prison and all had contended Cornell had planted the weapons.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 7/3/2017
State:New York
County:Cayuga
Most Serious Crime:Weapon Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2015
Convicted:2016
Exonerated:2017
Sentence:Not sentenced
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:28
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No