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Darryl Spears

Other New Jersey Exonerations with Official Misconduct
In June 2013, Darryl Spears was among more than 65 defendants indicted by the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice in connection with nearly 100 illegal guns.

The indictments arose from a statewide initiative launched by the Attorney General’s Office in 2012 with the Division of Criminal Justice and the State Police. The initiative targeted gun violence through “strategic investigations focused on seizing existing weapons in violent areas, disrupting weapons trafficking into those areas, and aggressively prosecuting criminals involved in the illegal sale and possession of guns.”

Spears was charged with unlawful possession of a weapon, unlawful disposition of a weapon, and illegal possession of a gun by a convicted felon. The charges alleged that on August 29, 2012, Spears, 23, sold a gun to a confidential informant for $500.

Prior to trial, a hearing was held to determine whether an audio recording made by the informant was admissible. State police detective Jeffrey Gauthier testified that he had reviewed the recording with a prosecutor to prepare a transcript. The informant had listened to the recording to identify the speakers.

The trial judge ruled that the recording was inadmissible because of its poor quality. He called the tape “horrible” and ruled that “areas that are unintelligible render the entire tape untrustworthy. It does not present evidence in my judgment that would be favorable to the state or favorable to the defense with the exception (of)…one line that deals with…(a) statement by the defendant himself.”

The judge, however, left open the possibility that developments during trial might warrant allowing the defense to use the recording “in some limited way.”

Spears went to trial in Mercer County Superior Court in November 2014. Gauthier testified that in April 2012, he was a member New Jersey State Police Weapons Trafficking Unit when the informant offered—in return for cash—to provide information about individuals dealing illegal weapons.

Gauthier testified that on August 28, 2012, the informant said he had bumped into Gary Spears, a long-time acquaintance, at a store in Trenton, New Jersey and asked where he could buy a gun. The informant said that Spears offered to sell him one the following day for $400.

On August 29, 2012, Gauthier gave the informant a recording device, which the informant placed in his pocket. The informant went to meet Gary Spears, and later came back to Gauthier and said Gary Spears told him that his brother, Darryl, would be selling the gun for $500.

Gauthier testified that the informant got the additional $100, and then left to complete the transaction. He said he and other officers discretely watched from a distance as the informant met with Darryl Spears. Gauthier said he saw Spears hand something—he could not tell what it was—to the informant who tucked it into his pants. The informant then left.

The informant then met with Gauthier in his police vehicle and turned over a gun, Gauthier testified.

The informant testified that he gave Darryl Spears $500 and Spears then handed him a gun. Spears’s defense attorney attempted to cross-examine the informant about statements on the recording of his conversation with Gauthier after the transaction, but the judge refused to allow it. When the defense attorney pointed out that at the pre-trial hearing, the judge had indicated portions of the tape might be admissible for impeachment, the judge said that either he had misspoken or the defense had misunderstood him. The judge said the entire tape was not admissible.

On November 18, 2014, the jury convicted Spears of all three charges. At his sentencing hearing in January 2015, Spears declared, “I’m innocent. Period. Point blank.” He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

On appeal, Spears’s attorneys argued that the recording of the conversation between the informant and Gauthier was not only very distinct, but that it contained inconsistencies with the testimonies of Gauthier and the informant.

On the tape, Gauthier could be heard specifically asking the informant where the transaction occurred—suggesting that he had lost sight of the informant and had not—as he had testified—seen anything exchange hands at all. Moreover, the informant said that there was a second person present—someone whose name he did not know.

In February 2017, the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court reversed Spears’s convictions and ordered a new trial. The court ruled that the defense should have been allowed to use the recording to confront Gauthier and the informant. The appeals court agreed that the recording prior to the conversation between the informant and Gauthier was inadmissible due to its poor quality.

“However, once the (informant) reentered Gauthier’s vehicle and was questioned about the transaction, the recorded conversations were not only audible but were exceptionally clear,” the appeals court said. “Portions of the conversation between the (informant) and Gauthier are arguably inconsistent with the trial testimony of both witnesses, and could have been used on cross-examination to impeach them.”

On February 15, 2017, Spears was released on bond pending a retrial. He went to trial a second time in March 2018. The defense was allowed to confront Gauthier and the informant with the recording of the conversation. On March 14, 2018, the jury acquitted Spears of all the charges.

In August 2018, Spears filed a lawsuit in Mercer County Superior Court seeking compensation.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 3/20/2018
Last Updated: 2/8/2019
State:New Jersey
Most Serious Crime:Weapon Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2012
Sentence:15 years
Age at the date of reported crime:23
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No