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Joel Fowler

Other New York Exonerations With Inadequate Legal Defense
On September 10, 2007, 24-year-old Dwayne Smith, a member of the “Bloods” street gang, was fatally shot on the street in Brooklyn, New York.
Based on interviews with witnesses, police developed two suspects: 17-year-old Joel Fowler and another man, both reputed members of the “Crips” street gang. An anonymous caller told police that Fowler and the other man had been seeking to avenge a shooting of a Crips member by a Bloods member. When the other youth was put into a lineup and when no one could identify him, he was dismissed as a suspect.
After a woman told police that she saw the shooting and that the gunman had attended the wake for Dwayne Smith, she was shown a photographic array. Police said she identified Fowler as the gunman and as the man she saw at the wake.
Four other witnesses to the shooting viewed a lineup that included Fowler and all told police that no one in the lineup was the gunman.
Fowler was arrested on January 9, 2008. After first saying he knew nothing about the crime, Fowler signed a statement confessing that he and a friend had been involved in an altercation with Smith and that they shot at Smith in self-defense after Smith shot at them. Fowler said that he didn’t hit Smith, but his friend had. Fowler repeated the confession in a videotaped statement. The friend was interviewed by police and when he denied any involvement in the crime, the police dropped him as a suspect.
Fowler went to trial in Kings County Supreme Court in November 2009. The woman who said that she saw Fowler at the wake identified him as the shooter and altered her story to say that she hadn’t actually seen Fowler at the wake, but that others had told her he was there. The defense and prosecution presented a stipulation that said that although the woman said she saw Fowler at the wake, in fact, he had been arrested for fighting on a school bus on the morning of the wake and was still in jail when the wake was held.
Fowler testified and denied any involvement in the crime. His attorney, Joel Medows, failed to call any of the witnesses who had viewed the lineup containing Fowler and informed police that Fowler was not the gunman. Medows had been indicted in 1981 on federal fraud charges for charging fees to provide false work authorizations for people in the U.S. on tourist visas. He had been suspended from the practice of law for four years and reinstated in 1987.
On November 9, 2009, the jury convicted Fowler of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
In 2014, New York City Police detectives contacted the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit after an informant revealed that a man had admitted to him that he was the person who shot Smith. By that time, attorneys for Fowler were investigating his case and had interviewed the eyewitness. She had admitted to a defense investigator that she had falsely identified Fowler.
Conviction Review Unit prosecutor John Sharples said that during the prosecution’s interview of the woman in April 2015, she maintained that she saw the shooting, but was unable to see the gunman well enough to make an identification. She said that she was pressured by police to identify Fowler.
On August 5, Sharples asked Kings County Supreme Court Justice Matthew D’Emic to vacate Fowler’s conviction. Hale cited what he called a “multifaceted confluence of issues” for the wrongful conviction. This included evidence that was not disclosed to Fowler’s defense lawyer at the time of his trial showing that the woman who said she saw Fowler at the wake was also cooperating with police in an unrelated shooting. She identified the gunman in the other shooting by the same nickname she used to identify Fowler. That case had been dismissed prior to trial after she recanted her identification. The same police officers worked on both cases—so they were aware of the woman’s credibility problems—and the prosecutor in Fowler’s case also knew of the woman’s credibility issues.
That evidence, combined with the recantation by the woman of her identification of Fowler, the defense lawyer’s failure to call witnesses who would have said Fowler was not the gunman, and Fowler’s false confession, amounted to a cascade that caused a wrongful conviction, Sharples said.
“This confluence in… the jury’s fact-finding process regarding this case was so corrupted that we cannot have any confidence in their verdict,” Conviction Review Unit prosecutor Mark Hale said.
D’Emic granted the motion to vacate the conviction, the charge was dismissed and Fowler was released. Fowler was the 14th person to be exonerated by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit after Kenneth Thompson was sworn in as District Attorney in January 2014.
In November 2016, Fowler filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of New York and three detectives. The lawsuit was settled in November 2017 for $2.5 million. Fowler also filed a claim for compensation in the New York Court of Claims and settled for $500,000..

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 8/15/2015
Last Updated: 5/3/2021
State:New York
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2007
Sentence:25 to life
Age at the date of reported crime:17
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No