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Rashon Martin

Other Bronx County, New York exonerations
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At about 2:40 p.m. on February 4, 2013, 20-year-old Naysean Chavis was shot in the left leg while walking between two buildings at the Mill Brook Houses housing development on East 137th Street in the Bronx, New York.

Chavis survived the attack and said he did not see who shot him. Police recovered five .40-caliber shell casings from in front of 584 East 137th Street and four bullet fragments in the walkway between the two buildings.

Not quite three hours later, a detective conducting a canvass of the area spoke to 47-year-old James Gamble, who said he saw a short, light-skinned black male with a slight mustache and beard in his late teens or early twenties, fire several shots. Gamble said he saw the shooter’s face briefly before the gunman fled on foot. He said he recognized the shooter from the area, but did not know his name.

Later that evening, Gamble went to the 40th Precinct and viewed a photo array that was computer-generated based on his description. After viewing the first six photos, Gamble picked the photograph of 20-year-old Rashon Martin. Gamble said he was “a thousand percent sure it’s him.”

The following day, February 5, 2013, police arrested Martin. On February 6, police interviewed Chavis at the hospital where he was being treated for his gunshot wound. Chavis said he saw the shooter, but did not recognize him. When the detectives showed him a photograph of Martin, Chavis said Martin was a close friend—like a brother—and that he was not the gunman.

That same day, Martin agreed to speak to detectives. He said that at the time of the shooting, he was on his way to see his daughter and his daughter’s mother, Alicia Willis, who lived on Weeks Avenue in the Bronx. He denied being the gunman and said Chavis was a very close friend. Martin said that shortly after the shooting, Chavis's girlfriend sent him a Facebook message saying that someone named “David” had shot Chavis.

That claim was not investigated, however.

On February 8, 2013, Gamble testified before a Bronx County grand jury and identified Martin as the gunman. He claimed that Martin used to live in the same building and same floor where Gamble lived and that Martin knew Gamble’s wife and children.

Chavis also testified before the grand jury. He said that he did not recognize the shooter. He said he saw the shooter’s face and the man was not Martin.

Willis, the mother of Martin’s child, told the grand jury that she received a text from Martin at 2:39 p.m. saying he was on his way to her house. She said he arrived around 3:30 p.m. and stayed there until 10:30 p.m.

Martin also testified before the grand jury. He denied being the gunman and gave the same account he had given to detectives.

On March 8, 2013, the grand jury indicted Martin on charges of attempted murder, assault, and criminal possession of a weapon.

For the next several months, Martin remained in custody at Rikers Island jail. His defense lawyer said the prosecution characterized the case as “rock solid” and that he was facing as much as 15 years in prison if convicted at trial.

Ultimately, the prosecution offered Martin a deal—plead guilty to attempted criminal possession of a firearm with a sentence of three years. On August 20, 2013, Martin took the deal and pled guilty. He was sentenced to three years in prison followed by three years of supervised release.

Eventually, however, Martin would serve five years and three months because he violated the terms of his supervision several times and was sent back to prison.

In 2018, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York indicted 33 members of three different Bronx street gangs—MBG (Millbrook Gangstas, also known as Money Bitches Guns), YGz (Young Gunnaz) and Kill Brook—on an array of charges relating to drugs, shootings, and other crimes committed in and around the Mill Brook Houses.

Among those indicted was 23-year-old David Oquendo, a member of the MBG gang, who was accused of being the gunman who shot Chavis.

The U.S. Attorney’s office informed the Bronx District Attorney’s Office. Its Conviction Integrity Unit, headed by Assistant District Attorney Risa Gerson, began to re-investigate the case. Among the individuals interviewed were some of the defendants charged in the federal case. They said they knew that Oquendo—not Martin—shot Chavis. These defendants said that there had been an ongoing feud between the MBG and Kill Brook gangs and that Oquendo shot Chavis because he belonged to the rival Kill Brook gang. These men also said that Martin was not a member of MBG.

Evidence also showed that five months after Chavis was shot and months before the prosecution offered Martin the plea deal, an undercover federal agent purchased a gun from a member of the MBG gang. The gun was submitted for firearms analysis and an analyst concluded that the gun fired the spent shells that New York police recovered on the day of the shooting. That information was not disclosed to Martin’s attorney.

The CIU interviewed Martin, who revealed the Facebook message that he received at 11:22 p.m. on the day of the shooting from Chavis’s girlfriend. The message said that “someone named David” was the shooter.

The CIU also interviewed Gamble, the sole eyewitness to implicate Martin. Gamble said he saw the gunman for only “a second.” He also said that when he identified Martin in the photo array, he was “50-50” percent sure that he was the gunman—not 1,000 percent. When shown a photograph of Oquendo taken shortly after the shooting, Gamble said that “maybe” Oquendo was the man he saw fire the shots.

Gamble also recanted his testimony before the grand jury. He said that he actually did not know the shooter, and that the shooter had never been in his apartment or knew his wife.

On June 4, 2019, the Bronx District Attorney’s Office joined a defense motion to vacate his conviction and to dismiss the charge.

The CIU said that the discrepancies between Gamble’s grand jury testimony and his statements to the CIU “cannot be explained merely as a mistake or a failure to recollect. Rather, it seems that the witness’s grand jury testimony was not entirely truthful. The lack of honesty on this point casts doubt on the accuracy and reliability of the identification.”

The CIU also noted that “ballistics evidence provided an important corroborative link supporting the account that the gun was used by MBG members.”

“New and compelling evidence of Martin’s innocence has come to light,” the motion said. “Accordingly, the District Attorney no longer has confidence in the reliability of Rashon Martin’s conviction even though it was obtained by a guilty plea.”

That same day, New York Supreme Court Justice Denis Boyle granted the motion and dismissed the case.

On November 4, 2019, Oquendo pled guilty in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to a charge of committing a violent crime in furtherance of a racketeering enterprise. In June 2020, Oquendo, who had been in custody since he was arrested in October 2017, was sentenced to time served.

In May 2020, Martin’s lawyers, Florian Miedel and Julia Kuan, filed a lawsuit in the New York Court of Claims seeking $21,150,000 in damages.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 7/28/2020
Last Updated: 7/28/2020
State:New York
County:Bronx
Most Serious Crime:Weapon Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2013
Convicted:2013
Exonerated:2019
Sentence:3 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:20
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No