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Darrell Booth

Other Orange County, California Exonerations
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At 1:30 a.m. on August 1, 1992, 20-year-old Terry Ross was killed and 22-year-old Stephen Strong was wounded in a shooting in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven store at 302 E. 17th Street in Santa Ana, California.

Strong’s brother, Scottie, told police he, Stephen, and Ross stopped to buy food and that Stephen backed the SUV into a parking space in front of the store. Scottie said he was inside the store when the shots were fired. When he came outside, Stephen was lying outside the vehicle with a gunshot wound in the abdomen. Ross was in the rear seat with a fatal gunshot wound to the head.

Scottie told police that at the scene that Stephen said, “They shot us,” but did not mention any names. Later, at the hospital, Stephen told him that the gunman was “Spade,” whose real name was Michael Haslip. Scottie told police he knew Haslip and found it hard to believe he was the gunman.

Police interviewed Stephen the next day. He denied knowing who shot him and denied telling Scottie that Spade was the gunman. At the same time, police were getting tips that Haslip’s older brother, Tommy, who was known as “Lamont” and “Unknown,” was involved in the shooting.

Police considered the shooting gang-related because the Strong brothers and Ross were members of the Crips gang, and the Haslip brothers were members of the rival Bloods gang.

On August 10, 1992, police interviewed Ellis Bradford, a security guard at an Orange County electronics firm. The interview was tape-recorded. Bradford said that he was passing by the 7-Eleven when he saw the Strong brothers, whom he knew, in the parking lot. He made a u-turn and just as he was about to pull into the lot, he heard a barrage of gunfire and saw four men near the SUV. When the shooting stopped, all four got into a white car, which sped off.

Bradford said he recognized the four as “Lamont,” “Deb,” “Demetri,” and “Peewee.” He said that although he did not know their real names, he was sure of those nicknames. He said Demetri and Peewee were firing guns at the driver’s side of the vehicle. He said he never entered the lot, and after the shooting he went home, believing that no one knew that he had witnessed the shooting.

Bradford said that later that day he learned that Stephen had been wounded and that Ross was dead. He went to the Strong residence to pay his respects and Scottie told him that Stephen knew who was involved. Bradford told police Scottie did not mention any names. Bradford said he did not tell Scottie what he had seen because he knew that members of the Crips had already begun retaliating against members of the Bloods, and he did not want to get involved out of fear for his own safety.

On August 13, Stephen Strong told police the shooting was precipitated by an incident earlier in the evening when he and some friends were at a liquor store. A car containing four men pulled in, and Demetri got out and began fighting with one of their friends. During the fight, Michael “Spade” Haslip got out of the car and pulled out a gun. In response, someone in Stephen’s group struck Haslip in the head with a bottle.

Stephen said everyone then dispersed. Several hours later, they stopped at the 7-Eleven. While waiting in the SUV, Stephen said, he recognized Spade’s brother, Tommy “Lamont” Haslip, approaching. Stephen said he lowered his window and Haslip said, “You guys hit my cousin,” and punched Stephen in the face. Immediately gunfire erupted, he said.

Police determined that Demetri was Demetrius Lopez, and that Deb and Peewee were brothers Terrance and Lemaine Timms. All three, as well as Tommy Haslip, were members of the Bloods street gang. The police also confirmed there was a confrontation at a liquor store prior to the shooting, and that Michael “Spade” Haslip had been hit in the head with a bottle.

Donnell English, who was in jail at the time of the shooting, said that after he was released, Tommy Haslip admitted to him that he shot Stephen and Ross. English said Haslip also said that 28-year-old Darrell Booth was with him at the shooting.

Police then assembled a photographic array of 36 pictures that included Demetrius Lopez, Booth, and the Timms brothers. Police also created two six-person photographic lineups that included Michael and Tommy Haslip.

On September 4, 1992, more than a month after the shooting, police showed the three photographic lineups to 17-year-old Charles Honea, who had told police that he was sleeping on a second-story balcony near the shooting. Honea had reported to police shortly after the shooting that he saw a man with braided hair running in the alley from the direction of the 7-Eleven and get into a white car that he thought was a Mercury Cougar.

Honea said that the photo of Booth most closely resembled the man he saw running in the alley, but he was not sure that Booth was the actual runner.

Stephen Strong also viewed the photographic arrays. He recognized Michael and Tommy Haslip, as well as Lopez and Terrence “Deb” Timms. He did not identify Booth as being present.

Police then showed the arrays to Ellis Bradford, who said he was nervous about identifying anyone. After studying them for a long time, he pointed to a photograph of Michael “Spade” Haslip and said he believed he was at the scene. When asked to identify him, Bradford said it was “Lamont.”

Bradford said two of the men in the arrays resembled Demetri, but he was not sure if either was actually him. Both, actually, were fillers and had nothing to do with the crime.

Asked if he recognized anyone else, Bradford said he recognized Booth, whom he knew as “Bobi.” Bradford said Booth was not any of the four men he saw in the parking lot. Bradford identified Lemaine Timms as “Peewee” and said he was one of the four men. He recognized the photo of Terrance Timms as someone he had seen with Peewee and the Haslips, but could not say when that was.

Police subsequently learned that several suspects in the shooting used the name “Lamont.” Investigators recontacted Bradford and ultimately Bradford said that he saw Tommy Haslip, not Michael Haslip, at the scene.

Despite the identifications, the investigation stalled for the next 17 years. In 2009, the Santa Ana police department, after receiving a grant to investigate cold cases, began reinvestigating the shooting.

In December 2009, the police interviewed Michael “Spade” Haslip in prison where he was serving a sentence for an unrelated murder. Haslip said that he had been hit in the head with a bottle and knocked out. Demetrius Lopez drove him to a hospital where he spent the night. He said he didn’t remember where his brother Tommy Haslip was that night.

Detectives then went to Earle, Arkansas to interview Tommy Haslip where he was living with his wife and six children. Haslip said that after he learned that his brother Michael had been hit in the head with a bottle, three of his cousins—Booth, Lemaine Timms, and Terrance Timms—went to see Michael in the hospital. Tommy said that Michael told him that Stephen Strong, a member of the Crips, was involved. Tommy knew Stephen Strong because Strong had shot him sometime in the past.

Tommy said he left the hospital in a white Thunderbird with Booth and the Timms brothers on a mission to get Strong. Fortuitously, they saw Strong driving into the parking lot of the 7-Eleven, he said. Tommy said they parked the car and approached Strong’s SUV. Tommy said he punched Stephen and then Booth, who was standing at the rear of the SUV, opened fire, wounding Stephen and killing Ross.

Tommy said that he was surprised that Booth opened fire. He said that Booth ran from the scene, and that he and the Timms brothers picked up Booth in the alley in the Thunderbird.

In May 2011, Booth was arrested. In August 2011, he as well as the Timms brothers and Tommy Haslip were indicted on charges of first-degree murder and acting for the benefit of a street gang. Haslip pled guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 14 years in prison in return for his testimony against Booth.

In December 2011, Booth went to trial in Orange County Superior Court. The trial lasted two days. Tommy Haslip testified that he, Booth, and the Timms brothers were out to avenge the attack on Michael Haslip when they spotted Stephen’s SUV in the parking lot of the 7-Eleven. He said that he tapped on the driver’s window and when Stephen lowered it, he punched him in the face and “the bullets started flying.”

Contrary to his earlier statement that Booth fired from the rear of the SUV—a statement that was in conflict with the ballistic evidence showing the shots came from the front of the vehicle—Tommy said he did not see who was firing the gun. He said he ran back to the car and that Booth and the Timms brothers arrived about the same time. Booth was holding a gun and said they “better not say anything.” They drove to Riverside, he said.

Honea testified that from his balcony, he saw a man he identified as Booth run down the alley, yelling, “We got to get out of here.” He said Booth got into a white Thunderbird, which sped off.

Honea was unable to identify Booth in court. However, he said he was sure that the person he picked out of the lineup in 1992 was the person he saw with the braided hair in the alley. He admitted that Booth was the only person in the lineup with braided hair.

On December 6, 2011, the jury acquitted Booth of first-degree murder, but convicted him of second-degree murder. Inexplicably, the jury rejected an enhancement of using a weapon in the commission of the offense.

Booth then retained a new attorney, Mitchell Haddad, who subsequently filed a motion for a new trial. Haddad presented sworn statements from Booth’s wife, Michael Haslip, and another person saying that Booth was at the hospital with Michael Haslip at the time of the shooting.

In addition, Terrence Timms provided a sworn affidavit saying that Booth was not with them at the parking lot and was not involved in the shooting in any way. In addition, Timms said that Tommy Haslip was the gunman and that they picked up him—not Booth—in the alley after the shooting.

Haddad also presented a statement from Scottie Strong that when he came up to his wounded brother and asked who shot him, Stephen said, “Unknown,” which was a nickname for Tommy Haslip.

In addition, Haddad argued that Booth’s trial attorney provided an inadequate legal defense by rushing too quickly to trial. Jose Dominguez, a private investigator for Booth prior to trial, provided a statement saying that he asked for more time to do pre-trial investigation to interview prospective witnesses, but Booth’s trial lawyer refused and went to trial anyway.

The trial judge denied the motion for new trial and sentenced Booth to 15 years to life in prison.

Terrance Timms then pled guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to prison. The case against Lemaine Timms was dismissed because he was extremely ill and serving time for another conviction.

Haddad appealed and also filed a state law petition for a writ of habeas corpus claiming that the 19-year delay from the crime to the trial had deprived the defense of an opportunity to call Bradford as a witness. The petition was remanded to the trial court for a hearing and evidence showed that efforts locate Bradford had been unsuccessful.

The petition was denied after Booth’s trial defense attorney testified that he believed the alibi defense was “weak.” He said that he considered filing a motion to dismiss the case due to Bradford’s unavailability, but for reasons he could not recall, he did not.

The trial judge conceded that Booth was “powerfully prejudiced” by the absence of Bradford, who could have provided evidence that directly exculpated Booth and inculpated Tommy Haslip, Lopez, and the Timms brothers in the shooting. At the same time, the judged noted that Bradford had a criminal record and his credibility could have been impeached. Ultimately, the judge denied the habeas petition.

In October 2016, the California Court of Appeals reversed Booth’s conviction and ordered a new trial. The appellate court ruled that Bradford was such an important defense witness that “a reasonably competent” defense attorney would have filed a motion to dismiss “based on the circumstances in this case.”

The court said that Bradford had the potential to be a “blockbuster witness” for the defense. In ordering a new trial, the appellate court said if further efforts to locate Bradford were unsuccessful, the defense should be allowed to play the recording of Bradford’s interview with police.

There was no retrial, however. On March 24, 2017, the prosecution dismissed the charge and Booth was released.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 1/18/2019
State:California
County:Orange
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1992
Convicted:2011
Exonerated:2017
Sentence:15 to Life
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:28
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No