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Jeffrey Blake

Other Brooklyn Murder Exonerations
On June 18, 1990, at 1:45 p.m., a man fired an Uzi submachine gun into the driver’s side of a car as it rolled in reverse down the 900 block of Dumont Avenue in Brooklyn, New York. When the car came to rest, 25-year-old Kenneth Felix was dead in the passenger seat. The man in the driver’s seat, 24-year-old Everton Denny, died soon after at the hospital. Both men had suffered multiple bullet wounds.

The police immediately began collecting evidence and canvassing for witnesses. Eight people reported that they hadn’t seen the crime. A ninth person said he saw a gunman firing into the driver’s side of the car. He described the gunman as a Black male with short hair, dressed in a green shirt and khaki pants.

On June 25, 19-year-old Dana Garner came to the police and reported seeing a different double murder. While talking to detectives, he was asked about the shooting of Felix and Denny. Police said Garner said he had seen that shooting as well and that the gunman was his longtime friend, 21-year-old Jeffrey Blake. According to Garner’s statement, Blake told him to leave the area because “something is getting ready to go down.”

Garner claimed that he saw Blake fire numerous shots into the moving car, running alongside the car on the passenger side. Garner also claimed that he saw five other men carrying guns and standing on the block. These men were never found or identified.

On June 26, the police located Blake, and he voluntarily came with them to the station. Blake stood in a lineup, and Garner identified him as the gunman.

Blake denied he was the gunman and said that on the day of the shooting, he was working as a stock clerk at a religious supply store in Bedford-Stuyvesant, more than four miles from the shooting. His supervisor confirmed that Blake worked that day, but said he clocked out for lunch at 1:15 p.m. and returned at 2 p.m. Based on that narrow window, Blake was placed under arrest on June 28, 1990. He was charged with two counts of second-degree murder and illegal use of a firearm.

In March 1991, Blake went to trial in Kings County Supreme Court. The prosecution’s case rested solely on Garner. During his testimony, he hesitated when asked to identify the gunman. The prosecution was granted a recess. When Garner returned to the witness stand, he identified Blake as the gunman.

Blake’s defense attorney, Howard Kirsch, noted that the medical examiner had testified that based on the angle of the entry and exit wounds, the bullets had been fired from the driver’s side of the car, which aligned with the account of the lone eyewitness on the day of the shooting. Garner claimed to see Blake firing into the passenger side of the vehicle. Garner also claimed that his girlfriend was with him at the time. Efforts to locate her at the time were unsuccessful.

Kirsch also elicited testimony that Garner had dealt drugs and had previously been admitted into a mental institution.

Additionally, Garner had testified that he had been staying with his grandmother and cousin at the time of the crime.

The defense presented testimony from Garner’s cousin, Otis Garry, who said that Garner was not staying with them and hadn’t been there for weeks. Garry also claimed that when Garner did show up to their home, days after the crime, the double murder was in the news and being discussed in the neighborhood. Garry suggested that Garner saw an opportunity to attract attention.

Garry also testified he and Garner had a “verbal confrontation” in the District Attorney’s office just before he testified. Garry said the exchange of words was witnessed by both a prosecutor and two detectives. Garry claimed that during this confrontation, Garner admitted that his testimony implicating Blake was a lie.

Blake’s supervisor and co-workers testified that he was at work that day and that he left for lunch at 1:15 p.m. and returned at 2 p.m. Blake’s sister testified that he walked seven blocks to her apartment to have lunch—which was his daily routine.

On March 26, 1991, Blake was convicted of two counts of second-degree murder and one count of Criminal Possession of a Weapon. He was subsequently sentenced to two consecutive terms of imprisonment of eighteen years to life on the murder counts and to a concurrent term of imprisonment of five to fifteen years on the weapons charge.

His appeal was assigned to Michelle Fox of the Legal Aid Society. While his direct appeal was pending, Blake's sister called to say she had crossed paths with Garner. She said Garner admitted that he had lied. A Legal Aid investigator brought Garner into the office. Garner gave a statement that was videotaped, saying that he had been in North Carolina at the time of the shooting. In 1994, Fox succeeded in getting a hearing on a motion for a new trial, but the motion failed when Garner invoked his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination and refused to testify, apparently fearing he might be indicted for perjury if he recanted on the witness stand.

In September 1996, the Appellate Division upheld Blake's conviction, and a request for a further appeal was denied. Fox resumed investigating the case. Janice Mitchell, a Legal Aid investigator tracked down Margaret Allen, the woman who Garner claimed was his girlfriend and had been with him at the time of the shooting.

Allen was located in Charlotte, North Carolina. When asked if she had witnessed the murders, she said, “He said that? He'll say anything, He's a liar." Allen gave a sworn affidavit saying she was not with Garner at the time of the shooting.

In 1997, Blake filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The petition was denied in 1998.

Fox turned to Bob Herbert, a columnist for the New York Times. On July 30, 1998, Herbert outlined the case, saying that Blake “is very likely innocent.”

“Think of the criminal justice system as an old dilapidated vehicle, a jalopy. Sometimes it will take you where you want to go. Frequently it will not,” Herbert wrote. “Jeffrey Blake is in prison in upstate New York, serving a sentence of 36 years to life for a double homicide, because the jalopy broke down.”

A month later, Herbert wrote a second column on the case. By that time, Garner had given another statement admitting he was not present at the shooting. He had taken a polygraph examination and was deemed truthful when he denied being present. Blake, meanwhile, had taken a polygraph and was deemed truthful when he denied being the gunman.

By that time, the Kings County District Attorney’s office had agreed to meet with Fox to review the new evidence in the case.

On October 29, 1998, a hearing was held on a motion for a new trial filed by Fox.

The prosecution said that it had interviewed Allen, and that Allen confirmed that she was not present at the shooting. Moreover, she said she and Garner had traveled from North Carolina to New York, but had not arrived until after the shooting. The prosecution also had spoken to numerous relatives of Garner. The relatives confirmed Garner was not present in New York at the time of the shooting and characterized Garner as a “habitual liar” who could not be trusted.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the prosecution agreed that Blake’s conviction should be vacated. The charges were dismissed, and Blake was released that day.

The prosecutor declared, “I don't know that I can go to the next step and say with certainty as I stand before you that the defendant did not commit the crime, but Mr. Garner was not in a position to have seen it. There was not one shred of evidence that corroborated him and there were things in the record as I see them today that contradicted him.”

The judge noted that Garner had also been implicated as a false witness in two other New York cases. The judge declared, “Garner impressed me as a witness who no longer cares about the truth or falsity of his testimony.”

Two other cases in Brooklyn were subsequently set aside after Garner admitted he had testified falsely. In 1999, the convictions of Timothy Crosby for assault and criminal possession of a weapon were vacated, the charges were dismissed, and he was released. In 2003, Ruben Ortega's murder conviction was vacated. He later pled guilty to first-degree manslaughter.

Blake filed a federal wrongful conviction lawsuit based in part on Garner’s claims of police coercion. During Garner's deposition, he testified that police fed him details about the double murder and pressured him to implicate Blake. Garner also testified that when he viewed a lineup, police directed him to Blake so he could pick him out.

In 2007, the city of New York settled the lawsuit for $1.2 million. Blake also was awarded $1.25 million in the New York Court of Claims.

– Maurice Possley and Meriam Shanti

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Posting Date:  Before June 2012
Last Updated: 8/3/2023
State:New York
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Weapon Possession or Sale
Reported Crime Date:1990
Sentence:36 to Life
Age at the date of reported crime:21
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No