On June 3, 1986, Steven Shields, a New York City social worker, was fatally shot at the South Jamaica Houses public housing development in Queens, New York.
The following day, police said they received an anonymous tip that the gunman was 41-year-old Eddie Andre, who had a prior conviction for manslaughter.
Police brought Andre in for questioning and he denied involvement in the crime. However, two 13-year-olds—Yvonne Hall and James Robinson—who were near the scene at the time of the shooting, selected Andre’s picture from a photographic lineup as the gunman, although the photograph was of Andre when he was 20 years younger.
Andre went on trial in 1988 in Queens County Supreme Court. Hall and Robinson identified him as the gunman. Andre told a jury that he was home watching a professional basketball game with a friend. A mistrial was declared when jurors deadlocked 11 to 1 in favor of acquittal.
Andre went on trial a second time in October 1988. Hall again identified Andre as the gunman, but Robinson testified that he had not seen the shooting at all. The prosecution, over defense objection, was allowed to introduce Robinson’s testimony at the first trial when he said he saw Shields and Andre quarrelling and then Andre shot Shields.
On November 1, 1988, a jury convicted Andre of second-degree murder and illegal possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Andre’s 64-year-old mother, Rolande, who worked as a tailor in a dry-cleaning business in Queens, believed her son’s claim that he was innocent and began a quest to find Hall and Robinson. During the next three years, she interviewed scores of people, often in housing projects with high crime rates, and spent hundreds of days trying to find the witnesses. She showed photographs of her son to more than 200 people.
One day, by chance, Robinson walked into the dry-cleaning business and disclosed that he had been a witness against her son. He admitted to Rolande that he had not known if Andre was the gunman when he selected his photograph in the lineup.
Rolande later located Hall’s grandmother, who agreed to arrange a meeting with Hall. At the meeting, Hall admitted that she could not say Andre was the gunman. Both Hall and Robinson signed sworn statements recanting large portions of their trial testimony. Later, in court, Hall recanted her recantation and said that in fact Andre was the gunman.
In July 1992, the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court reversed Andre’s conviction and ordered a new trial. The court held that the prosecution should not have been permitted to introduce Robinson’s entire testimony from the first trial and that the prosecution made an improper closing argument to the jury.
Andre was released on bond pending a retrial. In October 1994, the Queens County District Attorney’s Office dismissed the charges.
– Maurice Possley