On October 28, 1983, Colleen Maxwell, a social worker, was murdered in Dorchester, Massachusetts as she was taking Charles Bartick, a client with Down's syndrome, to a subway station. Maxwell and Bartick were confronted by three young black males with a gun, who demanded money. After the assailants struck Bartick on the head, Maxwell ran off to get help, and then got her car and pursued the attackers. About a half hour later, she was shot as she was trying to cut them off on a city street. Two high school students saw three black males flee the scene of the shooting. Maxwell later died of a bullet wound.
Police searched the area. About seven minutes after the shooting, they drove by a basketball court a mile from the scene where they saw several young males, three of whom ran away. The police stopped one of the three – Santos – who claimed that he ran because he had been carrying marijuana.
Immediately after he was apprehended, Santos, in handcuffs, was presented to the two high school student witnesses; they identified him as one of the youths they saw run from the shooting. Santos was later identified by Bartick at the police station. Bartick had described the men who attacked him and Maxwell as black males. When the police presented Santos to him, Santos was the only black male, and the only person not in uniform, in a room full of white police officers.
Santos was tried for first-degree murder, assault and armed robbery, in Suffolk County Superior Court. The evidence against him consisted of the various eyewitness identifications, and the fact that Maxwell’s wallet was found in a trash can between the crime scene and the park. Santos’s alibi was that he was buying marijuana at the time. He offered alibi witnesses, but these witnesses were also selling and consuming drugs at the time, and one bragged about being a drug dealer and assaulting two police officers the year before.
At trial, Bartick had difficulty identifying Santos. He first identified Santos’s brother and then two white men, a police officer and an attorney. The court allowed his earlier identification at the police station to be introduced into evidence. Santos was convicted on October 4, 1985, and sentenced to life in prison.
On July 11, 1988, Santos’s conviction was overturned by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts because the procedure used by the police to obtain an identification from Bartick was unduly suggestive, and because Bartick should not have been allowed to testify without a competency hearing. Santos was released that day. Prosecutors elected to try him again. Bartick was permitted to testify at the second trial, but was not permitted to attempt an in-court identification, and his identification in the police station was excluded. Santos was acquitted by a Suffolk County jury on March 17, 1990, after a trial that included new evidence about discrepancies between Santos’s appearance and the initial descriptions of the criminals, and evidence that another man – later convicted of attempted murder in New York – had admitted to committing the crime for which Santos was imprisoned.
— Michael S. Perry