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Carlton Roman

New York Exonerations involving Conviction Integrity Units
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On March 16, 1989, 28-year-old Lloyd Witter was shot to death inside a house in the Jamaica section of Queens, New York. Another person in the house, 27-year-old Jomo Kenyatta, was shot several times and taken to the hospital, where he remained unconscious for several weeks.

Paul Anderson, who lived in the house, was found outside, bound and handcuffed, but otherwise unharmed. Anderson initially told Detective John Loguercio that four men came to his house. According to Loguercio’s report, Anderson could not identify the men but gave a detailed description. He said the apparent leader was about 5’ 2” or 5’ 3” and walked with a limp. Two others, Anderson said, were no taller than 5’ 4”. The fourth person was, Anderson said, about 6 feet tall and had a so-called “Cameo” haircut, tight on the sides and tall on top.

A few hours later, at a precinct station of the New York Police Department, Anderson told Detective William Pepey that an acquaintance, 26-year-old Carlton Roman, was the shooter. Anderson referred to Roman, who had no criminal record and did not match any of his previous descriptions, by a nickname, “Marshall.”

Roman also knew Witter, and the next day, Roman called the home of Andrea Witter, Witter’s wife. Roman asked her what had happened and said he was coming over to see her. Witter had previously received a call from Anderson about the shooting. Witter became scared and called the police. When Roman arrived at Witter’s home, Pepey was waiting and arrested Roman. He was charged with second-degree murder, attempted murder, two counts of first-degree burglary, one count of first-degree assault, and one count of illegal possession of a weapon.

Separately, Anderson told the police on March 17 that a man named Hollis Laylor, who went by the nicknames “Skinny” and “Slim Man,” was another one of the assailants. The next day, he said two brothers, whom he only knew as “Bigger” and “Richie” were the other assailants.

Kenyatta remained at Mary Immaculate Hospital for several weeks, drifting in and out of consciousness. During that time, both Anderson and Pepey paid repeated visits. On April 13, 1989, Kenyatta identified Roman as one of the participants in the shooting. The identification was unorthodox. Pepey brought a box containing letters, and Kenyatta spelled out “Marshall,” “Skinny,” and “Richie” when Pepey asked who had shot him. He then showed Kenyatta a single photograph of Roman, and Kenyatta nodded to indicate the identification.

Roman’s trial in Queens County Supreme Court began in October 1990. There was no physical or forensic evidence tying him to the shooting, and the state’s case consisted of the testimony of Pepey, Anderson, and Kenyatta.

Prior to trial, Roman’s attorney had filed a motion for discovery related to the manner in which Anderson and Kenyatta identified Roman and asked for a hearing. The state responded that there was no need for a hearing on Anderson’s identification, because he and Roman knew each other. The response also said that prosecutors were “presently unaware of any additional identification.”

At trial, Anderson and Kenyatta each described the shooting and the events leading up to it. Anderson said that Roman, Laylor, Kenyatta and Witter had been at his house on March 15, 1989, and that a “fuss” occurred after Kenyatta and Witter took a gun from Roman. The next day, Kenyatta and Witter came by to help Anderson move. Roman, Laylor, Biggie and Richie came by later. They handcuffed Anderson and placed him in the basement. After several hours, he heard the doorbell ring, then a series of shots.

Anderson also testified that he was an architect, that he was not involved in dealing drugs, and that he had never been shot or treated at a hospital for a shooting.

Kenyatta said the initial argument on March 15 was about drugs and involved Roman, Laylor, and Witter. Kenyatta said that he and Witter returned to Anderson’s house on March 16. He said that when they walked in the house, the door closed quickly behind them. He then heard shots, and saw Laylor and Roman shooting Anderson. Kenyatta said he tried to run away, but Roman shot him on the stairs. He said that he could look out the window and see the four assailants as they fled.

Kenyatta testified on direct examination that his criminal record consisted of a single conviction for reckless driving and that he was not involved in dealing drugs. But he was recalled to the witness stand after Roman’s attorney produced evidence that he had pled guilty to attempted possession of a weapon after initially being charged with attempted murder.

Pepey testified about Roman’s interaction with Andrea Witter. He said that after Roman was arrested, he yelled out to Witter that he didn’t kill her husband and “when I got to the house I saw them there and left.”

Pepey also testified that Andrea Witter told him that she had learned about her husband’s alleged killer on March 16, when she left her house and walked to Anderson’s at about 10 p.m. Andrea Witter did not testify.

Roman testified and denied any involvement in the shooting. He said he wasn’t involved in dealing drugs. He also presented two alibi witnesses, including his fiancée, who said Roman had been with them at the time of the shooting.

The jury convicted Roman of second-degree murder and the other counts on October 19, 1990. He was later sentenced to 43 years and six months in prison.

Laylor was never prosecuted. Anderson returned to his native Jamaica, and Kenyatta experienced an apparent mental decline that left him unable to testify.

Roman filed numerous appeals in state and federal courts, including a 2004 petition for a writ of habeas corpus in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. That petition, which was denied, claimed that his trial attorney had been ineffective through a lack of preparation.

The pro se petition also said prosecutors “relied on perjured testimony by their witnesses and failed to disclose aspects of their backgrounds that would have been favorable to the defense. This included but was not limited to witnesses’ denial of their prior criminal records and involvement, denial of having been shot, and claiming to have seen events they were not in a position to see.”

Twice, in 2013 and 2018, Roman’s attorneys asked the Queens County District Attorney’s Office to reexamine the conviction. Although the conviction was reviewed, no action was taken. In 2020, Roman’s attorney, James Henning, resubmitted the case to the district attorney’s new Conviction Integrity Unit.

A new investigation found significant problems with the evidence and testimony used to convict Roman, corroborating his defense that the men who testified against him were liars and drug dealers.

Anderson had testified that he had never been shot, but he had also refused to expose his leg to prove the absence of a gunshot wound. The investigation found medical records that said Anderson had been shot in November 1988. New witnesses told the CIU that Witter was the shooter in that incident. The investigation also found that Anderson had given at least six different accounts of the shooting that left Witter dead, and they were inconsistent with each other.

Kenyatta’s credibility was also undermined. He testified that he was not involved in illegal activities but had become a victim by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The extent of his criminal record could not be determined at trial because of his extensive use of aliases. It turned out that Kenyatta had been arrested under these names for a series of violent crimes. A half-brother of Kenyatta’s told the CIU that Kenyatta was a violent man who carried a gun and that Anderson’s house was being used to sell drugs. Kenyatta told CIU investigators that he could not concentrate or remember details about the shooting, but other evidence suggested Kenyatta’s claims of neurological impairment were a ruse.

Pepey’s testimony also came under scrutiny. The CIU interviewed Andrea Witter. She said Pepey gave false testimony about statements Roman made after his arrest. While Roman said he didn’t shoot Witter, Andrea Witter said Roman never said he was at the house. Andrea Witter also said that contrary to Pepey’s testimony, she never walked to Anderson’s house at 10 p.m. on the night of the shooting.

The CIU said her account made sense. First, Witter lived nearly three miles away. It was very cold that night, and Witter had an infant and a 4-year-old child, and she wouldn’t have brought them with her or left them home alone.

Pepey also told investigators that he bought a fake visa for Anderson so he could return to the United States from his native Jamaica to testify against Roman.

Anderson recanted his testimony in 2019. He said Pepey fed him details of the crime and pressured him to testify by threatening to have authorities seize his U.S. residence in Queens, which was owned by his sister.

The CIU’s investigation noted that Anderson never was asked about the discrepancies between his identification of Roman and the early descriptions of the assailants he gave to Detective Loguercio. But it’s not clear if this was because the state failed to turn over this report or because Roman’s attorney failed to bring it up. The district attorney’s office certified in 2015 that it could not locate its case file.

On August 9, 2021, the Queens County District Attorney and Henning filed a joint motion asking the court to vacate Roman’s convictions. In its affirmation, the district attorney’s office said it “had concluded that three witnesses and the facts undermining the credibility of the key trial witnesses Anderson and Kenyatta could not have been discovered in the context of Roman’s trial with the exercise of due diligence and are of such character that they would have probably let to a verdict more favorable to the defendant.”

In his affirmation, Henning took issue with that characterization. “Whatever the contents of the lost prosecution file,” he wrote, “the true character and credibility of Paul Anderson and Jomo Kenyatta could have been readily ascertained with relatively basic investigation and, indeed, should have been known – at the very least – to Detective Pepey.”

On August 9, 2021, Justice Michelle Johnson of Queens County Supreme Court granted the motion and then dismissed the charges against Roman.

District Attorney Melinda Katz said, “We are not so arrogant to think that the system doesn’t make mistakes. When we find miscarriages of justice, we do everything in our power to correct them quickly.”

According to the New York Daily News, Roman told reporters outside the courtroom: “I'm not technically like a shy person, I have nothing prepared to say to you all. But let me say one thing: The justice system, everybody knows, is broken. I've read a thousand reports that say that. But words alone aren't going to get that fixed. You all have a part to play in this also. But I'm here now. But there's a lot of people in there who need your attention now. There's people in there who have been fighting for justice for longer than I have."

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 8/23/2021
Last Updated: 8/23/2021
State:New York
County:Queens
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Attempted Murder, Assault, Burglary/Unlawful Entry, Gun Possession or Sale
Reported Crime Date:1989
Convicted:1990
Exonerated:2021
Sentence:43 years and 6 months
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:26
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No