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Charles Daniels

Convicted of attempted murder in the second degree and sodomy in the first degree in Queens County, New York, Charles Daniels was exonerated four years later after the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court reversed the decision and ordered a new trial. Queens County District Attorney John J. Santucci agreed to drop the charges. Suppressed evidence regarding the unreliability of the prosecution’s sole witness, unfair jury instructions, and newly discovered medical evidence regarding the victim all contributed to Daniels’s exoneration.
 
On September 20, 1978, a two-year-old boy was found naked outside of the Queens South Jamaica public housing complex in New York City. The boy had been sexually assaulted and pushed off the roof of a three-story building. The boy’s mother, Carolyn Butler, had called the police to report her child missing. After the police found the boy, a neighbor, 10-year-old Maurice Simms, reported that he had seen the crime happen. Simms described the perpetrator as a 24-year-old black male with a medium-size afro. In the following days, Simms reported twice that he had never seen the man before witnessing the crime. Seven days later, New York City Police Detective Michael Miele asked Simms, “Was it Charles?” Simms then identified his neighbor, Daniels, as the perpetrator.
 
In August 1979, Simms was the sole witness to identify Daniels. Daniels claimed that for the majority of the afternoon, he was listening to his radio on the park bench. Daniels provided several witnesses who corroborated his alibi. These witnesses had no criminal background and voluntarily testified on his behalf. The jury was not instructed to scrutinize the testimony of the eyewitness to the same degree that they were told to scrutinize the alibi. Furthermore, the jury was not instructed that the prosecution had the burden to disprove Daniels’s alibi beyond a reasonable doubt. On December 11, 1979, a jury found Daniels guilty of attempted murder in the second degree and sodomy in the first degree.
 
The Legal Aid Society agreed to represent Daniels and appealed his conviction in 1982. In reinvestigating the case, Daniels’ attorneys found that Simms had been undergoing treatment because he was emotionally disturbed. They also learned that medical evidence had suggested the two-year-old boy, who recovered fully from the injuries sustained during this crime, may not have been raped by an adult and had not actually fallen from the roof. Legal Aid challenged the credibility of Simms’s testimony, and the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court found the original jury instructions insufficient for Daniels to receive a fair trial. On August 16, 1982, the Court reversed the decision and ordered a new trial.
 
Following this reversal, District Attorney Santucci agreed to dismiss the charges against Daniels. According to The New York Times, “Mr. Santucci’s office concurred largely with findings by the Legal Aid Society that the 10-year-old boy’s story was questionable because medical evidence indicated that the 2-year-old boy had not been thrown from a roof and that he might not have been raped by an adult.” The New York Times reported that “in prison, where child-sex offenders are treated as pariahs by other inmates and often preyed upon, Mr. Daniels was beaten, scalded with boiling water and, because of death threats, kept in virtual solitary confinement for four years.
 
After his release, Daniels sued New York City for his wrongful conviction and imprisonment. In January 1985, the City settled out of court with Daniels for $600,000.
 
- Spencer Burke
State:NY
County:Queens
Most Serious Crime:Attempted Murder
Reported Crime Date:1978
Convicted:1979
Exonerated:1982
Sentence:6 to 18 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:34
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct