On the morning of May 22, 1998, a man with a gun forced 21-year-old Samantha Wood and her two young children into her apartment on Cherrycrest Lane in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he attempted to rape her and then left after taking $60 from her purse.
Wood told police her attacker was a black man with his hair in cornrows that ran from the front of his head and extended down past his collar in braids. The next day, police returned to the apartment complex and were told by the rental manager that on the day of the crime, a man she had seen walking from a unit in the complex had asked her on a date.
When police visited that unit, the resident, April Pride, said that a friend, Shawn Massey, had stayed there on the evening of May 21, 1998.
The next day, Wood was shown a photo spread by police and she pointed to a photo of Massey saying he looked the “most like” her assailant. Massey, 25, was arrested on May 29, 1998 and charged with armed robbery with a deadly weapon, three counts of kidnapping in the second degree and felonious breaking and entering.
At Massey’s trial in September, 1999 Wood identified Massey, although she admitted that his hair at the trial was shorter than on the day of the crime and that he did not have braids--which she said her attacker had. She also said she recognized Massey’s voice as that of her attacker.
A man for whom Massey performed day labor testified that on the day of the crime, he drove Massey to a worksite where Massey remained until mid-afternoon. He produced pay records to verify Massey worked that day. A co-worker also corroborated that account and said that Massey’s hair was short.
A jury convicted Massey on all counts on September 17, 1998. He was sentenced to a term of 103 months to 133 months on the armed robbery charge and a sentence of 34 months to 50 months on the consolidated kidnapping and breaking and entering charges—to be served consecutively.
In the mid-2000’s, the Duke Wrongful Conviction Clinic at Duke University began investigating the case and discovered photographs of Massey just prior to the crime that showed him without the braids. Barbers provided affidavits that Massey could not have grown hair long enough to have braids matching the description given by Woods.
Wood was located and revealed that she had expressed doubts to the prosecution about her identification after she first saw Massey in court. That statement was never disclosed to Massey’s defense.
Confronted with the new evidence, Mecklenburg District Attorney Peter Gilchrist obtained a court order vacating the conviction and dismissed the case on May 6, 2010.
“We messed up by failing to disclose to the defense that the victim at one point expressed doubt about her identification of the defendant,” Gilchrist told the Charlotte News & Observer.
Massey applied for a pardon on the basis of innocence and was supported by the prosecution, but the state of North Carolina denied the request.
In September, 2011, a lawsuit was filed on Massey’s behalf against several Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers. The lawsuit alleges, in part, that after interviewing April Pride, an officer created a false report claiming that Pride had described Massey as having braids. The report became the basis for focusing on Massey as a suspect.