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Shawn Lawrence

Other Suffolk, NY Exonerations with Official Misconduct
On the night of January 12, 2010, during a party in the Andpress Plaza housing complex in Amityville, New York, 22-year-old Allen McGhee had an allergic reaction while eating shrimp. When 40-year-old David Hodges tried to take the shrimp out of McGhee’s mouth, they got into a fight. Hodges’s sister, Ronda Boyd, who was hosting the party, ordered everyone to leave.

Not long after, Hodges was in his van in a parking lot of the housing complex with 44-year-old James Terry and 44-year-old Ralph Council, neither of whom had been at the party. Hodges was talking about the “young dudes” who were at the party and how they did not know that he was still capable of fighting. At that point, four males walked in front of the van with their heads down.

Council, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, asked if those were the people at the party. Hodges, who was sitting in the rear seat, swore and said he didn’t care about those “young dudes.”

A few minutes later, one of the males, who was brandishing a pistol, tried to open the driver’s side door, where Terry was sitting behind the wheel. Terry yelled that he had nothing to do with the incident at the party and that Hodges was in the back seat. The van began to roll forward and the gun was fired multiple times.

Terry was fatally shot in the chest. Council was shot in the buttocks as he fled the van. Hodges was shot in the head. He survived, but the wound caused such serious damage that he would never be able to testify in court.

More than two years later, on April 4, 2012, police arrested 40-year-old Shawn Lawrence and charged him with second-degree murder for the shooting of Terry, two counts of attempted murder for shooting Hodges and Council, and illegal possession of a firearm.

Police also arrested McGhee. On June 12, 2014, McGhee pled guilty to first-degree manslaughter and two counts of first-degree assault as part of a plea agreement with the prosecution. He admitted that he committed the crime with Lawrence, and was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

The prosecution’s key witness was Ralph Council, who had been interviewed at least three times by police in the two years that elapsed after the shooting. He had consistently said that four young men were standing by a dumpster in the parking lot, and that one came to the driver’s side door and told Terry to turn off the van. Council, who had a lengthy criminal record, said he heard Terry say, “It wasn’t me, he’s in the back.” Terry then ducked down toward Council. That’s when the gunfire began, Council said.

However, after Council was arrested on unrelated charges in December 2011, he changed his statement and said two men came to the van—McGhee and Lawrence. He said Lawrence spoke with Terry and then began firing a silver pistol.

Prior to trial, Lawrence’s defense attorney interviewed Council. In that interview, Council said that Lawrence had nothing to do with the shooting—that Lawrence was “not there.” Council claimed that the prosecutor on the case, Glenn Kurtzrock, and a detective had coerced him to implicate Lawrence.

When Lawrence went to trial in Suffolk County Supreme Court in April 2015, the prosecution informed the trial judge of Council’s statement to the defense attorney. The prosecution argued that if the defense attorney wanted to elicit Council’s recantation, the attorney would have to step out of the case because he could not both defend the case and be a witness.

The defense lawyer responded that he would forego any questions about the recantation. Lawrence then said he would not waive any conflict of interest. At that point, the prosecution asked the judge to replace the defense lawyer, but that motion was denied.

Council testified and changed his statement. He now said that McGhee was the man with the gun and that it was black, not silver. But he also said that Lawrence was behind McGhee with a silver gun.

James Jones also testified for the prosecution and told the jury that he saw Lawrence in the parking lot on the night of the crime shooting into the van. Jones first implicated Lawrence in April 2012—after Lawrence was arrested. Jones admitted during cross-examination that while he was in jail, he recanted and claimed he knew nothing about the crime and only implicated Lawrence because of police pressure. He further admitted that after he was released from jail, he then recanted his recantation and said that in fact he did see Lawrence in the parking lot. Jones also testified that he was high on crack cocaine at the time of the shooting. He said that he had been high for several days prior and that the detective gave him $50 in cash on the day he agreed to identify Lawrence.

Larry Williams, superintendent of the housing complex, testified that he saw four men in the parking lot prior to the shooting, but could not identify them. He said they were walking “shoulder-to-shoulder, four-wide.” He said he did not notice anything remarkable about their heights—although McGhee was 5 feet 5 inches tall and Lawrence was 6 feet 4 inches tall.

A detective testified that Hodges had viewed a photographic lineup and identified Lawrence as the gunman.

The defense called McGhee to testify and he admitted the motivation for the shooting was the fight over the shrimp. However, although he had implicated Lawrence in his plea, McGhee now told the jury that Lawrence was not involved in the shooting at all.

Tyreek Burwell also testified for the defense. He admitted that he had given a statement to police implicating Lawrence in the shooting. He told the jury, however, that he was not at the housing complex or the parking lot at all.

On May 21, 2015, the jury convicted Lawrence of second-degree murder, two counts of first-degree attempted murder, and illegal possession of a weapon. He was sentenced to 75 years to life in prison.

Burwell and McGhee were subsequently charged and convicted of perjury for their testimony on behalf of Lawrence.

Lawrence appealed. In May 2017, while the appeal was pending, Kurtzrock, the prosecutor at Lawrence’s trial, was forced to resign for failing to disclose favorable defense evidence to lawyers in other cases.

Lawrence's appellate lawyer, Laura Solinger, informed the district attorney's office of Kurtzrock's involvement in Lawrence's case. The prosecution agreed to conduct a review of the case.

Eventually, the review turned up 45 separate items of evidence, comprising hundreds of pages, that had not been disclosed to his defense lawyer before trial. The concealed evidence included the following:

• The prosecution paid witness James Jones $4,000 in relocation expenses.

• A police report stating that Hodges spontaneously identified two other men as being involved in the shooting.

• A report that a black gun had been found in the possession of a 15-year-old boy whose description was closer to the gunman than Lawrence.

• Information about the boy and several other youths surfaced during the investigation.

• The housing complex superintendent stated to police that the youths he saw in the parking lot “looked young.”

In December 2017, the Second Judicial Department Appellate Division reversed Lawrence's conviction and ordered a new trial. The court ruled that the trial judge erred when he failed to grant the prosecution’s motion to replace Lawrence’s trial lawyer. Lawrence was then released on bond.

In January 2018, the prosecution moved to dismiss the charges against Lawrence “in the interest of justice.”

A the request of Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice William Condon, Solinger filed a response asking that the case be dismissed due to prosecutorial misconduct.

On February 15, Justice Condon dismissed the charges, citing the “absolutely stunning” prosecutorial misconduct.

Lawrence was the fifth defendant prosecuted by Kurtzrock whose murder charges were dismissed, and the only one whose case was dismissed after the conviction was vacated. Four defendants in another murder case were allowed to plead guilty to assault charges and murder charges were dismissed.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/19/2018
State:New York
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Attempted Murder, Gun Possession or Sale
Reported Crime Date:2010
Sentence:75 years to life
Age at the date of crime:37
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No