About 9:30 p.m. on September 7, 2004, 37-year-old Derrick Hinson was fatally shot in an alley in Washington, D.C.
Four days later, a woman named Miracle Cowser called police and said that 17-year-old Dwight Grandson and two others—Grandson’s cousin, Jerome Holliway, and Grandson’s girlfriend, Danielle Adams—had threatened to kill her if she implicated Grandson as Hinson’s killer.
Police immediately arrested Grandson, Holliway and Adams. That night, Cowser’s 12-year-old daughter, Myra, identified Grandson, whose nickname was “Bin Laden,” as the man she saw shoot Hinson.
Grandson was charged with murder, use of a weapon and obstruction of justice. Holliway and Adams were charged with accessory to murder after the fact, obstruction of justice and witness intimidation.
Grandson went on trial in District of Columbia Superior Court where Miracle Cowser testified that she was sleeping and awakened by gunshots. She said Myra ran into the house yelling that Grandson had been shot. When she went outside, she heard people saying that Grandson had shot Hinson. She saw Hinson in the alley, but didn’t talk to police because she didn’t want to get involved. Four days later, she said she drove into her parking lot and saw Grandson, Adams and Holliway. She later said that that Holliway threatened to cut off her head if she talked to police. Yet, she admitted that she stayed with them drinking and smoking marijuana for a while before going home and calling police.
Myra Cowser testified that she was outside playing and saw Adams get into a quarrel with Grandson. Hinson broke up the quarrel, dragged Grandson outside of Adams’ house and punched Grandson in the face repeatedly. Myra (who – according to her mother – had said that Grandson had been shot) testified that Grandson left and later returned with a gun and shot Hinson as he was talking on his cell phone.
Twelve-year-old Tecoiya Woods testified that she was outside of Adams’ house and saw Hinson approach Grandson and after saying something about “a robbery,” punch Grandson, who left. She said she went inside and came out later and saw Grandson, with his face partly covered by a mask, walk up to Hinson and shoot him. She said she did not see Myra outside during the shooting.
Margo Frye testified that she heard the shots and saw Hinson on the ground. She said a number of people ran past her, including Grandson, but he was not carrying a gun or wearing a mask.
Police evidence technicians testified that they recovered spent bullets, bullet fragments and .45-caliber cartridge casings from the scene. A medical examiner testified that Hinson had been shot four times and grazed by a fifth bullet. The examiner said that Grandson had facial abrasions and bruises consistent with having been in a physical altercation.
The defense called Thomas McBride, a wheelchair bound man who spent his days in the area selling drugs. He said he exchanged money and drugs with Hinson occasionally. Shortly before the shooting, McBride said he saw two men, both of them about 5 feet, 6 inches tall—more than half a foot shorter than Grandson—rob Hinson of cash, drugs and the keys to his truck.
After the robbers fled, Hinson approached Grandson, who was sitting on Adams’ patio and punched him repeatedly because Hinson believed Grandson had set him up. McBride said Grandson was staggered by the beating and when he got up to flee, ran into a pole. McBride said Grandson appeared “punch-drunk…knocked out on his feet.” McBride said Grandson then ran off and about the same time someone else ran past him and shot Hinson.
McBride said the gunman was about 5 feet, 6 inches tall. He said he was 100 percent confident the gunman was shorter and stockier than Grandson. He also said the shooting happened so quickly after Grandson was battered and left “discombobulated,” that it was impossible for him to have been the gunman. Near the end of McBride’s testimony, the prosecution and defense lawyers became involved in an evidentiary dispute and the trial judge asked to see McBride’s grand jury testimony. In reviewing it, the judge discovered that McBride had told the grand jury that Grandson carried a .25-caliber pistol and that this evidence had not been provided to Grandson’s defense attorneys.
This failure by the prosecution to disclose the evidence to the defense was not the first such instance in the case. Despite requests for favorable evidence to the defense, the prosecution failed to disclose until the day of trial or during trial that Miracle Cowser had been treated for schizophrenia, and had threatened to commit suicide in 2003 and 2004. The prosecution also withheld until the last minute a statement from a witness who said that a different man had confessed to the killing.
Another neighbor testified that he heard Hinson accuse Grandson of orchestrating the robbery of Hinson. The neighbor said Hinson beat Grandson, who tried to escape, but ran into a pole before fleeing the neighborhood. The neighbor said he saw “a little short dude” arrive about two minutes later with a gun. The neighbor said he fled, but heard shots as he ran.
Curtis Noland testified that on the night of the crime, he saw Grandson running toward him with his face bleeding and bruised. Noland said that a few minutes later, as he and Grandson stood together, he heard gunshots.
On May 30, 2006, a jury convicted Grandson of all charges and he was sentenced to 42 years and eight months in prison.
Later that year, Holliway and Adams were convicted of all charges against them, based on the testimony of Miracle Cowser.
In the fall of 2006, Miracle Cowser gave a local television station an interview in which said she had been promised a reward of $25,000—another fact that had not been disclosed to the defense.
Grandson filed a motion to vacate his conviction, but after the prosecution said it was unaware of any promises, the motion was denied.
In 2007, Holliway and Adams filed a similar motion and a hearing was held in the spring of 2009. At that time the prosecution conceded that although Cowser had not been promised a reward, “she nevertheless had an expectation of a reward.” Cowser denied that she had an expectation of a reward—testimony the judge found to be incredible. Following the hearing, but before a ruling, the prosecution agreed to reduce Holliway’s sentence from 17 years to seven years and Adams’ 10-year-sentence was reduced to time served. The defense motion was then withdrawn.
Grandson then renewed his motion for a new trial. During a hearing on that motion, Tecoiya Woods—who had positively identified Grandson as the gunman—testified that she had not seen the shooter’s face and assumed it was Grandson because of the fist fight between Grandson and Hinson. “I just thought it was him,” she testified. Woods also testified that she did not see Myra Cowser outside when the shots were fired.
On May 11, 2010, Judge Rhonda Reid Winston granted Grandson’s motion for a new trial and vacated the conviction. She ruled that the prosecution had repeatedly failed to turn over favorable evidence to the defense. Grandson was released on bond and went on trial a second time in September 2011.
On October 3, 2011, a jury acquitted him.
In 2013, the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Snyder received an informal admonition from the District of Columbia Office of Bar Counsel, which found that he had made false statements to the judge when he said that he was unaware of the existence of items evidence favorable to the defense.
– Maurice Possley
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.