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Calvin Buari

Other Bronx Exonerations
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At around 9 p.m. on September 10, 1992, 24-year-old Elijah Harris and his 25-year-old brother, Salhaddin, bought food from the Soup Bowl restaurant at 213th Street and Bronxwood Avenue in the Bronx, New York, and carried it back to their car. As they settled in, a gunman approached and fired 13 times, killing both men.

The murders were the first in a series of shootings in the area that left several others dead and numerous wounded in what police believed was a power struggle among the different groups who sold drugs at that intersection.

On March 22, 1993, police arrested 21-year-old Calvin Buari, a well-known drug dealer in the neighborhood who had himself been wounded in one of the shootings. Buari was charged with the murders of the Harris brothers.

In October 1995, Buari went to trial in Bronx County Supreme Court after rejecting a prosecution offer to plead guilty in return for a three-year prison term. Several rival drug dealers testified for the prosecution and identified Buari as the gunman. No physical evidence connected Buari to the crime.

On October 30, 1995, the jury convicted Buari of two counts of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 50 years to life in prison.

In 2003, Buari filed a post-conviction motion to vacate his convictions. He claimed that one of the witnesses at his trial, Dwight Robinson, had been convicted of a different murder, but in such remarkably similar circumstances that it was likely that he--not Buari--killed the Harris brothers. In 2004, Buari’s attorneys amended the motion to include a sworn statement from Robinson admitting that Buari was innocent and that Robinson had been the gunman.

Robinson, however, recanted his recantation at the evidentiary hearing and said that he only gave his original sworn statement admitting to the murder because he was intimidated by Buari. The defense presented a prisoner who testified that Robinson had confessed to him that he killed two men and that another man was wrongly convicted of the crime. Another witness who testified at Buari’s trial—Kinto Effort—testified that he falsely identified Buari as the gunman. Effort testified that the prosecution threatened him with being charged with the murders unless he identified Buari as the gunman.

In 2006, the trial judge denied the motion to vacate Buari’s convictions and ruled that the recantations by Robinson and Effort were not credible.

In 2015, Buari filed another motion to vacate his convictions based on evidence from three new witnesses, all of whom testified at an evidentiary hearing in 2017.

Kimberlia Clarke testified that she lived in a second floor apartment next to the Soup Bowl restaurant. She said she heard gunshots and looked out her window. She recognized the gunman as Robinson because she frequently saw him dealing drugs on the corner. Clarke said she told police she had not seen the gunman because she was afraid of retaliation. She said she moved away not long after the shooting, and that she reached out to Buari’s private investigator after learning through social media that Buari had been convicted.

Clarke’s sister, Nakia, testified that she was sitting on the steps in front of the building when the shooting occurred right in front of her. She recognized Robinson as the gunman, she said. She never spoke to anyone about the shooting and moved away almost immediately.

Caroline Brown testified that not long before the shooting, she was standing on the street about a half block away when she saw Buari and asked him for a light for her cigarette. She said Buari handed her a lighter. When gunshots erupted, Buari yelled, “Run!” and Brown ran into her apartment.

Later, when the police were still on the scene of the shooting, Brown said she came back out to go to a bodega. She saw Buari among the crowd of onlookers and returned his lighter. Brown testified that she did not know Buari had been convicted until she read a news article about the case in 2017. She then contacted Buari’s legal team.

In May 2017, Bronx State Supreme Court Justice Eugene Oliver Jr. granted Buari’s motion for a new trial and vacated his convictions. Judge Oliver said the new witnesses provided “direct and straightforward” accounts. On May 8, 2017, Buari was released on bond pending a retrial.

On March 21, 2018, the prosecution dismissed the charges.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 3/29/2018
State:New York
County:Bronx
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1992
Convicted:1995
Exonerated:2018
Sentence:50 years to life
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:20
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No