Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Ronnie Qualls

Other Suffolk County, Massachusetts exonerations
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Ronnie_QuallsA.jpeg
In the early morning hours of October 3, 1992, a lone gunman, firing multiple shots, fatally wounded two brothers, 25-year-old Roosevelt “Tony” Price and 22-year-old Ronald “Dallas” Price as they sat in the back seat of a vehicle in a parking lot of what was then known as the Dudley Square area of Boston.

Witnesses told police a man approached the back window of a Geo Tracker vehicle and fired at least one shot through the plastic rear window, then moved to the open passenger window and fired more shots at the Price brothers. The gunman then fled. Dallas was shot once and Tony was shot twice.

Donna Carrington, who was driving the Tracker, drove a short distance to 1111 Harrison Avenue where Tony’s girlfriend lived. Tony got out. Two other friends who were with them, Leroyal Holmes and Fred Monroe, then drove Dallas to the hospital where he died from his wounds.

Police and emergency personnel responded to a call for assistance at the Harrison residence. Officer Clifton Haynes saw Tony walking down some stairs with his hand on his right side and blood on his shirt. Hayes asked who shot him and Tony replied, “Junior.” Tony told Haynes, and later again told two other police officers, that “Junior” shot him and that Junior was in a Ford Escort automobile. Tony also told the officers where Junior lived and the street on which Junior’s sister lived. Paramedics arrived and began working on Tony, but he died shortly thereafter.

Based on Tony’s description of the shooter, police sought James Earl “Junior” Williams and stopped Williams in his black Ford Escort two hours after the shooting. Holmes happened to be walking by Williams’s car as police stopped Williams. Williams was wearing a gray sweatshirt that had multiple small bloodstains. He turned it over to police. He denied involvement in the shooting and was released. Later, he gave three recorded statements to police in which the details changed each time and ultimately implicated 20-year-old Ronnie Qualls.

In the first statement, he said that after taking Qualls to his grandmother's so Qualls could change his shirt, Williams dropped Qualls off near the group that included the Price brothers because Qualls wanted to "straighten" things out. In a second statement, Williams said that after the shooting occurred, he bumped into Qualls, who got into Williams's car and said he had "taken care of" his problem. And in the third statement, Williams said that when Qualls got into his car, he was nervous and wiped blood off his hands and from a gun he was carrying.

On October 29, 1992, Qualls turned himself in to the police after he learned he was wanted for questioning. He denied involvement in the shooting. However, he was arrested after Holmes, Monroe, and Mattie Buford—who was Monroe’s girlfriend and was present at the shooting—identified him in a photographic lineup as the gunman.

Qualls was charged with two counts of first-degree murder for the killings of the Price brothers, assault and battery for threatening Holmes, and unlawful possession of a firearm. On December 1, 1992, Williams was indicted on charges of accessory before the fact and accessory after the fact for allegedly aiding Qualls.

In October 1993, Qualls went to trial in Suffolk County Superior Court. Holmes, Monroe and Buford identified Qualls as the gunman.

According to the testimony, the motivation for the shooting was an earlier altercation at the Biarritz Lounge. Williams and Qualls, who were together, ran into the Price brothers at the lounge. At around 1 a.m., Dallas Price confronted Qualls and said that he had fatally stabbed Qualls’s cousin. Price then threw a broken beer bottle at Qualls, prompting them to get into a fistfight. They were separated by a bouncer and an off-duty police officer and Qualls was escorted outside.

Tony Price followed Qualls outside and began fighting with Qualls. During this tussle, Qualls swung at Tony with a knife. Meanwhile, inside the Biarritz, Dallas Price and Williams were threatening each other and grabbing each other’s shirts until they also were separated. Dallas was heard to say to Williams, “We’re cousins. I don’t understand why you are with [Qualls] against me.” Williams replied, “I’m down with him. He’s my man.”

Williams was also heard to say, “I can’t let you do that to [Qualls].” At that point, Williams left and got behind the wheel of his Escort. Qualls got into the passenger seat and they drove off.

Not long after, the Price brothers, accompanied by Monroe and Holmes, left the Biarritz. They stopped to visit the Price brothers’ mother, who lived a three-minute walk away, and they headed toward Studio 88, another nearby bar. On their way, they met up with Buford, who was Monroe’s girlfriend, and Carrington, who was driving the Geo Tracker. The women parked the Tracker in a parking lot while the men walked to Studio 88. They were not allowed in, however, because it was almost closing time and no drinks were being served.

At this point, Tony Price began feeling ill. He took off his leather jacket and determined that he had a puncture wound in his right armpit. The group decided to take him to the hospital in the Tracker. As Dallas was getting ready to climb into the back seat, he and Holmes spotted Williams’s car. Holmes testified that he saw that Qualls was in the passenger seat.

Holmes told the jury that he walked toward the street and ran into Qualls, who threatened him with a gun and walked toward the Tracker. Monroe also testified that he saw Qualls with a gun walking toward the vehicle. Holmes shouted that Qualls was “strapped,” meaning that he was armed. Hearing that, Buford ran across the street. Monroe ran away as well. According to Holmes, Qualls approached the rear of the Tracker and fired multiple shots through the plastic rear window, then fired shots through the open passenger side front window.

Police testified that Tony Price said the gunman was Williams.

An autopsy revealed that Tony Price had a gunshot wound on his outer right arm just below his shoulder. The bullet had passed through his arm and re-entered his body on the right side of his chest. The bullet had then traveled through his body to his left side, where it had lodged. A medical examiner testified that these wounds were consistent with the shooter having stood to the right of Tony. Tony also had a stab wound to his right chest. Dallas Price had two gunshot wounds--one at his right front shoulder and the second was at his lower right back. The second wound was consistent with the shooter having stood behind Dallas, the medical examiner said.

The bullet hole in the back window of the Tracker indicated that the shot from behind Dallas had been fired at close range and there was a deposit of gunpowder at the entrance of the shoulder wound, indicating the shot causing the wound had been fired from close range.

Three .38-caliber bullets were recovered from the men’s bodies. Sergeant Detective Mark Vickers testified that two definitely, and likely all three, had been fired from the same gun. No gun was recovered.

The gray sweatshirt that Williams was wearing when he was first stopped less than two hours after the murder had several very small stains on the front and back which a crime lab analyst said were determined to be type B human blood. Tony and Dallas had type B blood, as did Williams. The stains did not penetrate through the sweatshirt and were consistent with someone getting a paper cut and then wiping their hand on their shirt, or coming into contact with someone who had a small amount of blood on their clothing, according to the analyst.

The stains were not consistent with having come into contact with either Tony’s or Dallas’s clothing, which were covered in blood. There was no blood on the back window of the Tracker, according to the testimony, indicating that blood had not passed through the window.

Type A blood, which was Qualls’s blood type, was found on the front passenger seat of Williams’s car as well as the passenger door handle. Qualls’s fingerprint was found on the outside of the passenger door window.

Two witnesses, including Dallas Price’s girlfriend, Marie Fletcher, testified over defense objection that on two occasions prior to the shooting—including the night before—Dallas said that Qualls wanted to kill him. Fletcher said that the night before the shooting, Dallas said Qualls wanted to kill him “for something that happened a long time ago…[H]e’s gonna kill me.”

September Sturrup, a friend of Dallas, testified that one week before the shooting, Dallas said that Qualls had been released from prison and that “Either [Qualls is] going to get me or I’ll have to get him.”

Holmes also was allowed to testify that in the Biarritz Lounge on the night of the shooting, Dallas said that his ‘worst enemy [Qualls] was in the bar.”

On November 3, 1993, the jury convicted Qualls of first-degree murder, assault and battery, and unlawful possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to life in prison.

In March 1994, Williams pled guilty to lesser charges of accessory to manslaughter before and after the fact. He was sentenced to 12 to 20 years in prison. He was released on parole in February 2003.

In June 1997, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts set aside Qualls's convictions and ordered a new trial. The court held that testimony about statements made by Dallas prior to the shooting was inadmissible hearsay.

Shortly thereafter, Qualls was released on bond pending a retrial. He went to trial again in March 1998 and was again convicted. He was once more sentenced to life in prison.

His convictions were affirmed by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in 2003.

In 2017, the Boston College Innocence Program, directed by Professor Sharon L. Beckman at the Boston College Law School began reinvestigating Qualls’s case. For two years, supervising staff Attorney Charlotte Whitmore and law students, including Rachel Feit, worked hundreds of hours on the case.

In January 2019, Beckman and Whitmore were joined by David Lewis, chief of the Integrity Review Bureau of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office in presenting a motion for DNA testing to be performed, primarily on the sweatshirt that detectives had confiscated from Williams just hours after the shooting.

In August 2019, the tests showed that the blood on the front and back of the sweatshirt was that of Tony Price. As a result, in January 2020, the prosecution and Qualls’s lawyers filed a joint motion seeking to vacate Qualls’s convictions.

In February 2020, Suffolk County Superior Court Judge Christine Roach granted the motion and vacated Qualls’s convictions. Judge Roach noted that the case had always been presented as involving one gunman and that the finding of Tony’s blood on the sweatshirt was powerful evidence for the defense. “Simply put, the presence of Tony’s blood on Williams’ sweatshirt could suggest to a reasonable jury that Williams was much closer to the victims at the time of the shooting than other trial evidence had demonstrated.”

On March 11, 2020, Qualls was released from prison. On September 1, 2020, the prosecution dismissed the charges.

– Maurice Possley

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date: 9/21/2020
Last Updated: 9/21/2020
State:Massachusetts
County:Suffolk
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Assault, Gun Possession or Sale
Reported Crime Date:1992
Convicted:1993
Exonerated:2020
Sentence:Life
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:20
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes*