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Douglas Warney

Other New York False Confession Cases
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On January 3, 1996, 63-year-old William Beason was found stabbed to death in his apartment in Rochester, New York. Beason, who was also known as Solomon Israel and was a member of Rochester’s contingent in the Million Man March, was lying on his back. He had 19 stab wounds to his neck and chest and had defensive wounds on his left hand.

Police found a bloodstained knife, a bloodstained towel, and several bloody tissues in a clothes hamper in his bathroom. The murder, police concluded, occurred on New Year’s Day.

A few days after the body was discovered, 34-year-old Douglas Warney, a man with a history of mental health issues, an eighth-grade education (his IQ was 68), and advanced AIDS, called the police claiming that he had information about a homicide. He said he knew Beason because he had cleaned Beason’s house and shoveled snow from his driveway just two years before the murder.

During 12 hours of police interrogation, Warney gave varying accounts. Initially, he said he was shoveling snow at Beason’s home when Warney’s cousin, Brian Szymkowski, broke down the door because Beason owed him money. Warney said he heard screaming and when he went inside, Szymkowski had killed Beason.

As questioning continued, Warney said that he had helped Szymkowski kill Beason. And ultimately, he said that he alone had killed Beason and that Szymkowski was not involved at all.

Police said that Warney provided details that only the killer could know – that Beason was wearing a nightgown, that he had been cooking chicken, and that the killer cut himself with a knife and wiped it with a tissue in the bathroom.

Warney’s confession, however, contained numerous inconsistencies. Szymkowski was in a medical facility at the time of the murder. Warney said he killed Beason in the kitchen, although evidence showed the murder occurred in the bedroom. He said he tossed his bloody clothes in a garbage can, but the can—which had not been picked up—had no bloody clothes. Warney was no stranger to police. A few days before Beason’s murder, police took Warney to a psychiatric hospital after he made dozens of false calls reporting fires and car accidents and ordering pizzas. He had checked out after one day.

The Monroe County Public Safety Laboratory conducted blood and enzyme testing on the crime scene evidence. Beason was type O and Warney was found to be type A. The blood on the knife was consistent with Beason’s blood and enzyme types. Blood on the towel and tissues could not have come from either Beason or Warney. Blood was also found under the victim’s fingernail scrapings, but there was an insufficient amount of material for testing.

A number of fingerprints were recovered from the scene, including one from the bloodstained knife. Three fingerprints were also recovered from a videotape box. Beason was identified as the source of two of the prints. Warney and Beason were excluded as the source of the third.

Latent print examiner Robert Garland initially reported that the print on the knife contained only three friction ridge characteristics and deemed it “no value.”

Warney was initially charged with capital murder. He went to trial in Monroe County Supreme Court in February 1997. The prosecution introduced his confession.

Although he had previously said the print on the knife had “no value,” Garland told the jury that he was able to determine the pattern type, which he could use to exclude people. Based on his analysis Beason and Szymkowski were excluded as the source of that print because they lacked the pattern type on any finger.

He testified that Warney could not be excluded as the source of the print because he had one finger containing the same pattern type, which had features consistent with the three features on the print on the knife. Garland did not mention that, given that his conclusion was based on three characteristics and a pattern type, many other people also would not be excluded as the source.

On February 12, 1997, the jury convicted Warney of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

In 2004, the Innocence Project and Donald M. Thompson began working on Warney’s case and sought DNA testing of blood from the fingernail clippings, knife, towel, and tissues. The prosecution opposed the testing and the judge denied the motion.

While the ruling was being appealed, the prosecution, without notifying Warney, Thompson, or the Innocence Project, arranged for DNA testing. The Monroe County Public Safety Laboratory conducted DNA testing on the victim’s left fingernail scrapings, blood flecks from around the crime scene, bloodstains on the towel, and bloodstains on tissues in the bathroom.

Warney was excluded from this evidence. A DNA profile that was not Beason was compared against the FBI’s national DNA profile database.

The DNA profile was matched Eldred Johnson, Jr., a New York state inmate already serving a life sentence for other crimes. Latent print examiners compared the unidentified mark on the video box to Johnson’s prints and concluded that he was the source of the unidentified mark. When prosecutors interviewed him, Johnson admitted that he had acted alone in killing Beason and that he did not know Warney.

On May 16, 2006, Warney’s conviction was vacated and he was released from prison.

Warney filed a claim with the New York Court of Claims that was settled for $400,000. As part of Warney’s civil suit against the city, Ron Smith & Associates reviewed the print on the knife and concluded that Warney could be excluded as its source based on an “absence of feature correlation.” Smith opined that Garland had tried to “bolster the fingerprint evidence in the eyes of the jury.”

In 2011, Warney settled a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Rochester for $3.75 million.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date:  Before June 2012
Last Updated: 4/27/2018
State:New York
County:Monroe
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1996
Convicted:1997
Exonerated:2006
Sentence:25 to Life
Race:White
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:34
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes