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Randolph Williams

Other Brooklyn Homicide Exonerations
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In the early morning hours of February 27, 2007, 36-year-old Vincent Hill was fatally shot once in the chest near a basketball court in the east Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York.

On March 21, 2007, police arrested 22-year-old Randolph Williams and charged him with murder and illegal use of a weapon. The detectives said that three witnesses had identified Williams as the gunman. All three had identified Williams in a live lineup and one of them, a woman, had identified him in a photo lineup as well, police said. The woman, police said, voluntarily came forward because she wanted to do the right thing.

Williams went to trial in Kings County Supreme Court in March 2008. By that time, the two male witnesses had recanted their identification of Williams as the gunman. They said they had mentioned Williams’ name to police and picked him out of the live lineup because they knew him previously. One of the men said he not only didn’t see the gunman, but didn’t see Williams at the scene at all.

The other man said he could not identify the gunman, but did see that the gunman was wearing a jacket that was similar to one that Williams had worn in the past. And he testified that just before the shooting, he heard the victim say, “Here comes Pooch,” which was Williams’ nickname.

The third witness, who had given an audiotaped statement identifying Williams as the gunman, refused to testify saying that she had been approached and threatened by a man she had previously seen with Williams. She said she feared for her life and the lives of her family members.

The trial judge held a hearing to determine whether the witness would be declared “unavailable” and therefore police could testify to her identification of Williams. The judge ordered Williams excluded from the courtroom during the hearing, although Williams was allowed to hear a live audio feed from the courtroom while he was in a holding cell.

Three days after the hearing was concluded, the judge ruled that the witness was unavailable and that the prosecution had shown that the defendant was responsible. As a result, the judge ruled that Williams had forfeited his right to cross-examine the witness and that the audiotape would be played for the jury and her testimony before the grand jury would be read to the jury.

Williams presented an alibi defense, contending he was 15 miles away with his girlfriend at Coney Island at the time of the shooting.

On April 8, 2008, the jury convicted Williams of second-degree murder and illegal use of a firearm. He was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

In February 2015, the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court, Second Department, vacated Williams’ convictions and ordered a new trial. The court held that barring Williams from the courtroom during the hearing on whether to declare the witness unavailable deprived him of the opportunity to confer with his attorney and to engage in the “meaningful participation to which he was entitled.”

Prior to his retrial, investigators Robert Rahn and Kim Anklin, working for Williams’ lawyer, Michael Farkas, interviewed the three eyewitnesses. The one who said he had not seen the gunman or Williams at the scene stood by that testimony. The one who said the gunman wore a jacket similar to one that Williams wore and heard Hill refer to Williams just before the shooting by the nickname “Pooch” said that testimony was false and that he had no idea who committed the crime.

The third witness—the woman who had refused to testify at the first trial—said that the police had forced her to identify Williams by threatening to have her arrested and evicted from her public housing apartment for dealing drugs out of her residence. She said the police account of her voluntarily coming forward as a Good Samaritan was false.

The woman said that police showed her a photo array and told her to pick out Williams. She said that after Williams surrendered and was put in a lineup, she was again told by police to pick him out as the gunman. The witness said she feared being prosecuted for perjury for telling a grand jury in 2007 that Williams was the gunman.

On March 15, 2016, after the retrial began, the female witness again failed to appear to testify. As a result, Kings County Supreme Court Justice Alan Marrus dismissed the case and Williams was released.

In 2017, Williams filed a lawsuit in Kings County Supreme Court seeking compensation.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 3/28/2016
Last Updated: 1/29/2018
State:New York
County:Kings
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:2007
Convicted:2008
Exonerated:2016
Sentence:25 to life
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:22
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No