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Cory Epps

Other New York Exonerations with Mistaken Witness Identification
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Shortly before 4:30 a.m. on May 26, 1997, 23-year-old Tameka Means was shot to death in her car at the intersection of East Delevan Avenue and Chelsea Place in Buffalo, New York.

Jacqueline Bradley, who was sitting in the front seat next to Means, told police that the gunman had been driving another car and was angry over being cut off in traffic.

Bradley gave a description of the gunman and helped police create a composite sketch, which was circulated widely. On June 26, a relative of Means said that she believed the sketch resembled 25-year-old Cory Epps. Police assembled a photographic lineup that included Epps’s photograph, and Bradley said that Epps looked like the gunman.

Four days later, after learning that police were looking for him, Epps voluntarily came to a police station and offered to appear in a lineup. Bradley viewed the lineup and selected Epps as the gunman.

Epps was arrested on July 31, 1997, and charged with second-degree murder and criminal possession of a firearm. He went to trial in Erie County Supreme Court on April 20, 1998. Bradley identified Epps as the gunman. No gun was ever found, and no physical or forensic evidence linked Epps to the crime.

Epps’s wife testified that they were dining at a Perkins Restaurant at about the same time the shooting occurred. The restaurant manager also testified that they were there. She produced a cash register receipt, but the prosecution argued that because it showed the bill was paid in cash, there was no way to know if it was actually issued to Epps and his wife.

On April 24, 1998, the jury convicted Epps of second-degree murder and criminal possession of a weapon. A few days later, the judge and defense received an anonymous letter claiming that the real gunman was Russell Montgomery. The letter said that Montgomery also had killed Paul Pope four days before the start of Epps’s trial because Pope had heard Montgomery admit to killing Means.

Although sentencing was delayed briefly to allow Epps’s lawyer to investigate, ultimately no further information was developed. Epps was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

In 1999, Montgomery was convicted of murdering Pope and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. In 2000, an attorney for Epps filed a post-conviction petition seeking a new trial on the ground that Montgomery was the real killer.

The motion was supported by a sworn affidavit from Wymiko Anderson. Anderson stated that she had written the anonymous letter. She said that she told police before Epps’s trial (and before sending the anonymous letter) that Pope had confided to her that Montgomery had admitted killing Means. The motion claimed that police had failed to disclose that information to Epps before his trial.

The motion was also supported by a sworn affidavit from a prison inmate who said that Montgomery had admitted during a prison conversation that he—not Epps—killed Means. Moreover, the defense presented a sworn statement from Jacqueline Bradley—the sole eyewitness—saying that although she didn’t believe she made a mistake in identifying Epps, she saw a resemblance between Epps and Montgomery.

At a hearing on the motion, detectives denied that they were told about Montgomery before the trial. The judge ultimately denied the motion for a new trial, finding the detectives credible. The court further ruled that Anderson’s testimony about Montgomery’s admission was inadmissible as double hearsay because she was quoting the now-dead Pope, who was quoting Montgomery.

In 2010, Epps sought assistance from attorneys Glenn Garber and Rebecca Freedman at the Exoneration Initiative (EXI), a non-profit innocence organization in New York City.

In February 2017, after a lengthy re-investigation, EXI filed a motion seeking a new trial. The motion cited a new witness who had information implicating Montgomery in the killing of Means.

Erie County District Attorney John Flynn then commenced a re-investigation of the case and ultimately consented to a hearing on the motion. On November 30, 2017, Epps testified that he was in the Perkins restaurant with his wife at the time of the shooting. The newly-discovered witness also testified, but that portion of the hearing was closed to the public to protect her identity because she fears for her safety.

The following day, December 1, 2017, Flynn consented to vacating Epps’s convictions and dismissing the case.

Erie County Supreme Court Judge James Barnesi vacated the convictions, saying, “The judgment of conviction of Mr. Cory Epps is hereby vacated ... in the interest of justice.” Flynn then dismissed the charges and Epps was released shortly thereafter.

At a press conference that afternoon, Flynn said that the new witness unearthed by EXI “clearly showed” that someone other than Epps was “potentially responsible for this murder. That, in conjunction with the old evidence…led me to the conclusion that there is not enough evidence to believe that Corp Epps is guilty of this murder beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Montgomery is incarcerated at the Coxsackie Correctional Facility in Greene County, New York, still serving his sentence for murdering Pope.

Although Flynn did not specifically mention Montgomery as the culprit, he noted that his photograph and the photograph of Epps at the time “are eerily similar—like twins similar.” Flynn also noted that while Bradley still insists that her identification of Epps was accurate, she initially told police that the gunman had acne bumps on the side of his face.

“Cory Epps doesn’t have those bumps,” Flynn said. “But the real (killer) does.”

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 12/7/2017
State:New York
County:Erie
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Gun Possession or Sale
Reported Crime Date:1997
Convicted:1998
Exonerated:2017
Sentence:25 years to life
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:25
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No