In 1972, a transit worker was robbed and bludgeoned to death by two men on a Boston, Massachusetts subway platform. A month after the crime, police arrested Harry Ambers and Laurence Adams. Three witnesses -- all members of the Moore family – testified that Laurence Adams had admitted to the crime while at their home. In 1974, Adams, who is African-American, was convicted of first degree murder by an all-white, all-male jury – despite testimony from Adams’s entire family that he was at home with them when the crime was committed. Adams was 19 years old. He was sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1975, after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court declared the state's death penalty statute unconstitutional. Harry Ambers was also convicted and received the same sentence. In 1978, Adams’s appeal, based on ineffective representation by his defense attorney, was denied.
In 1993, a court ruling required access to state records that had been previously unavailable. A lawyer appointed to investigate Adams’s case found evidence of gross police and prosecutorial misconduct, and ineffective legal defense. According to previously suppressed records, the state’s star witness, Wyatt Moore, and his sister Susie were both facing criminal charges when they testified against Adams, and in both cases charges were dropped or reduced in exchange for their testimony. Wyatt Moore had been incarcerated on the date when he claimed to have been at his mother’s home where he allegedly heard Adams confess to the murder. In fact, he had shared a cell with Warren Ambers, brother of Adams’s co-defendant Harry Ambers – who had also been a suspect in the murder, along with his brother Harry. The attorney also found police records in which Harry Ambers admitted to committing the crime with his brother Warren. In addition, at the time of his trial, Adams’s attorney also represented Warren Ambers on unrelated charges – a conflict of interest that prevented him from defending Adams’s case by identifying Warren Ambers as a suspect. Soon after this new evidence was discovered, Susie Moore, on her death-bed, recanted her testimony against Adams.
In 2004 a Massachusetts Superior Court Judge ordered a new trial for Adams based on this newly uncovered evidence. Thirty years after his conviction, Adams was released from prison on bail on May 20, 2004, and charges against him were formally dismissed on June 7, 2004.
Adams filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Boston. The case was settled for an undisclosed amount in 2009.
– Alexandra Gross