On April 1, 1989, 16-year-old Anthony Wynn was fatally shot in the hallway of an apartment building in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.
A resident of the building who saw the gunman flee described him as about 19 years old and 5 feet, 7 inches tall. After a few days, police had no leads, so they distributed flyers in the neighborhood asking that anyone with information call Crime Stoppers and leave a message. On April 6, Abdullah Pickering, another resident of the building where the shooting occurred, called the tip line and implicated Derrick Deacon, a Jamaican immigrant with a crack cocaine addiction who was known by residents of the building because he did odd jobs for them and for the building superintendent.
At 34 years of age and standing 6 feet tall, Deacon did not fit the physical description of the perpetrator. Nonetheless, he was arrested on April 7, 1989 and charged with second degree murder, first degree robbery and criminal possession of a weapon.
Deacon went on trial in December 1989 in Kings County Supreme Court. Pickering testified that he saw Deacon argue with Wynn and yank a chain from Wynn’s neck. Pickering then heard gunfire.
The woman who provided the initial physical description was called as a defense witness and was expected to testify that Deacon was not the gunman, but on the witness stand, she hedged and said she wasn’t sure whether Deacon shot Wynn.
Deacon testified on his own behalf and denied involvement in the crime. He said that he was in another building at the time of the shooting.
In December 1989, a jury convicted Deacon and he was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. Pickering later collected a $1,000 Crime Stoppers reward.
In 2001, federal authorities were investigating a violent Jamaican gang known as the Patio Crew, which controlled the section of Flatbush where the murder occurred. A man named Trevor Brown became a cooperating witness in the investigation and told federal prosecutors that Deacon was not Wynn’s killer. Brown, in an interview with a federal prosecutor, two federal agents and a New York City police detective, said Wynn had been murdered by a member of the Patio Crew known as Pablo who was later deported to Jamaica.
None of the law enforcement officials at that meeting notified Deacon of Brown’s statement. Instead, three years later, another member of the Patio Crew, Emile Dixon, who had been convicted of federal charges, found a copy of Brown’s statement in his file. Dixon sent the statement to a relative and asked that the statement be sent to Deacon.
In 2007, attorney Glenn Garber, who would later found the Exoneration Initiative, a New York innocence project, took on Deacon’s case and began a six-year battle to prove Deacon’s innocence. In 2008, he filed a motion for a new trial. Brooklyn prosecutors opposed the motion, arguing in part that Deacon’s motion was filed too late and that the evidence of Deacon’s guilt was overwhelming.
In 2009, a hearing was held on the motion for a new trial, during which Brown testified that Pablo admitted killing Wynn. Brown said, “Pablo told me that when he pulled the gun on Wynn, Wynn did not back down. Pablo said that he then shot Wynn.”
The woman who gave the initial physical description also testified and said that she had been pressured by law enforcement to give “vague” testimony at Deacon’s trial, even though she knew Deacon looked nothing like the man she saw on the night of the crime. In an affidavit, the woman said, “I was fearful of the real perpetrator and others who may have been associated with him. Being noncommittal about (Deacon) seemed to be the safest and easiest approach at the time.” The woman said she was threatened with loss of her children if she did not cooperate.
Deacon’s motion was denied. But in June 2012, the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court reversed and vacated Deacon’s conviction. The court held that "the likely cumulative effect of the newly discovered evidence and the recantation testimony established a reasonable probability that the result of a new trial would be a verdict more favorable to the defendant.”
Deacon went on trial a second time in November 2013, represented by Garber and attorney Rebecca Friedman. Pickering again testified to seeing Deacon grab a chain from Wynn and hearing gunshots. He admitted had collected a $1,000 reward for his testimony.
The woman who had given the initial description told the jury that Deacon was not the gunman and that she falsely hedged at Deacon’s first trial on whether he was the gunman.
Brown testified that Pablo and two other Patio Crew members knew that Wynn was going to a particular apartment to purchase narcotics and they intended to rob him of his cash before the drug purchase. When Wynn resisted, Pablo shot him, Brown testified.
On November 18, 2013, the jury deliberated nine minutes before acquitting Deacon. In April 2014, Deacon filed a lawsuit against the state of New York seeking $25 million for his wrongful imprisonment.
– Maurice Possley