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Henry Surpris

Other Wake County Cases
On April 17, 2013, 32-year-old Barshiri Sandy and 34-year-old Henry Surpris approached Marcus Smith in his garage as he got out of his car in Raleigh, North Carolina.

What happened next became a matter of dispute. What is certain is that when it was over, Sandy, Surpris and 33-year-old Smith were all wounded by gunfire.

Smith told police that he was a “club promoter” and that three or four men wearing masks robbed him of $1,153 and a ring. Smith said that after he turned over the money and ring, he grabbed a pistol left on his car by one of the robbers and shot both men. One of them shot Smith in the arm with a return gunshot and then the robbers fled in a waiting car.

Several days later, Sandy and Surpris were placed under arrest at the hospital where they were being treated for their wounds. They were charged with assault with intent to commit serious injury, armed robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery.

Bryant Baldwin was arrested the following month, and after denying he was involved in the crime, eventually admitted he drove Surpris and Sandy to and from Smith’s garage. He agreed to plead guilty and testify for the prosecution.

Sandy and Surpris went to trial in Wake County Superior Court in October 2014. Smith testified that immediately after he pulled into his garage, three or four men wearing masks rushed in and pulled him from the car at gunpoint. He said that they stripped the ring from his finger and took $1,153 in cash from his pants pocket. Smith said that one of the robbers left a gun on the trunk of his car and he grabbed it and began firing, striking two of the men.

Smith said one of the robbers fired back and struck him in the arm before fleeing. Smith said he carried a large amount of cash as part of his job as a promoter and denied that he was a drug dealer.

A detective testified that not long after, Sandy and Surpris were anonymously dropped off in the parking lot of a hospital. When they were brought in for treatment, a spent slug fell from Surpris’s clothing. Five days later, a .45-caliber pistol was found near an elementary school adjacent to Smith’s home. Ballistics testing matched the slug that fell from Surpris’s clothing to the recovered weapon, the detective said.

Baldwin testified that he went with Surpris and Sandy to Smith’s house and because they were armed, he presumed a robbery was planned. He said that he waited outside and after hearing shots, Sandy and Surpris came to the car, both with gunshot wounds. He said he drove them away from the scene and dumped them in the parking lot of a hospital. Baldwin said he did not see Sandy or Surpris take anything from Smith. He said he did not see the gunshots, but that he believed Sandy had shot Smith.

Sandy and Surpris testified on their own behalf and said that Smith was, in fact, a drug dealer.  They told the jury that they went to see Smith not to rob him, but to confront him about marijuana they had purchased from him which he had not delivered.

They testified that Smith offered them the cash and a ring in place of the marijuana, but after handing over the money and the ring, Smith grabbed a handgun from the front seat of his car and shot them. Sandy and Surpris said they fired back at Smith in self-defense and then fled in the car driven by Baldwin.

On November 12, 2014, the jury convicted Sandy and Surpris of assault, armed robbery and conspiracy to commit armed robbery. Sandy was sentenced to 21 years in prison and Surpris was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

While they were appealing their convictions, Smith was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of trafficking large amounts of marijuana. The investigation of Smith had been largely conducted by the Raleigh Police Department.

Appellate lawyers for Sandy and Surpris discovered that the investigation of Smith was known to Colleen Janssen, the assistant district attorney who prosecuted Sandy and Surpris.

The defense lawyers filed a motion for appropriate relief seeking to vacate the convictions of Sandy and Surpris claiming that Janssen used a private email account to communicate with the detective who was overseeing the investigation of Smith.

The motion claimed that although the police were ready to arrest Smith for drug trafficking, Janssen urged them to hold off until after the trial of Sandy and Surpris. As a result, Janssen elicited testimony from Smith that he was not a drug dealer—testimony that was false, the motion claimed.

On June 21, 2016, the North Carolina Court of Appeals granted the motion and vacated the convictions of Sandy and Surpris.

The court noted that the accounts of Smith and the defendants were “radically dissimilar” and that the “key issue” was whether Smith, “the victim and the state’s key witness,” trafficked large amounts of marijuana.

“The defense argued he did. The state argued he did not,” the court of appeals said. “The defense was correct, but did not have the direct evidence to prove it because the state suppressed substantial evidence documenting Marcus Smith’s marijuana trafficking. The state, on the other hand, knew Smith trafficked marijuana, but allowed Smith to falsely tell the jury he made money legitimately as a club promoter.”

“Specifically, it is clear that their constitutional rights were violated, at the very least by the (prosecutor’s) failure to provide information which (Sandy and Surpris) could use to make their own case and impeach Mr. Smith’s testimony, namely, his assertions that he was not a drug dealer,” the appeals court said.

On July 11, 2016, the prosecution dismissed the charges and Sandy and Surpris were released.

Meanwhile, Janssen was put on a paid leave of absence and subsequently resigned as a prosecutor. In August 2016, Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens ordered an official misconduct investigation of Janssen.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 8/10/2016
Last Updated: 8/17/2016
State:North Carolina
Most Serious Crime:Robbery
Additional Convictions:Assault, Conspiracy
Reported Crime Date:2013
Sentence:10 years
Age at the date of reported crime:34
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No