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Joseph Carter

Other Virginia Exonerations
On the night of November 19, 1989, two men burst into a room at the Silver Sands Motel in Norfolk, Virginia.

Juan Nunez-Reyes and Miguel Arrellano were in the room. Arrellano said that one of the men attacked Nunez-Reyes and stabbed him to death. The second man hit Arrellano with a club. The assailants stole a briefcase and then fled.

Arrellano told police that the men wore masks and had on waist-length leather jackets with insignias on their sleeves. Angela Andrews, who lived down the hall, told police she had left her room after hearing loud noises and saw the assailants running away. She said that she had never seen either man before. Andrews also contradicted part of Arrellano’s statement, stating that the men had on knee-length black trench coats. She also said they weren’t wearing masks.

Crime-scene investigators with the Norfolk Police Department collected evidence from the motel room. They found two separate blood types. The first was the same type as Nunez-Reyes’s. The other was a different blood type. They dusted the room for fingerprints and ran that evidence through a police database, ​which produced a list of candidate sources. A forensic analyst said that one of those candidates, a man named Mark Pavona, was the source of the prints.

Brought in for questioning by Detective Glenn Ford, Pavona implicated Joseph Carter and Brian Whitehead in the murder. He said he had run into Carter and Whitehead a few hours before the murder. He said they wanted to sell him drugs, and when Pavona declined, the men told him they “were out to find some money.”

Pavona said the target of the robbery had been Nunez-Reyes’s roommate, Salvador Garcia. Pavona said Carter had occasionally worked with Garcia and knew he had a briefcase with valuables in his motel room.

Quickly, Ford brought Arrellano and Andrews back for more questioning. Despite their previous statements, they each viewed a photo array and identified Carter, who had lived at the motel for a few months in 1989, as the perpetrator.

On November 21, 1989, Carter and Whitehead were arrested and charged with murder and other crimes.

Whitehead went to trial first. A jury acquitted him in Norfolk City Circuit Court on June 21, 1990, of first-degree murder, robbery, attempted robbery, malicious wounding and armed burglary. His attorney argued that Arrellano could not make an identification because the intruder said to be Whitehead wore a mask and never spoke.

Carter’s trial began a week later. There was no physical evidence connecting him to the crime. A medical examiner testified that Nunez-Reyes had been stabbed with a knife blade at least four inches long. Detectives searched Carter’s residence after his arrest. They recovered a knife, but the knife didn’t match the medical examiner’s testimony.

Pavona testified that he had worked and briefly lived with Nunez-Reyes and that Carter and his wife had also lived at the Silver Sands for a few months. He said that when he saw Carter in the hours before the murder, Carter was wearing a Navy pea coat without any insignias or patches. This description of the coat was different from the descriptions given by Andrews and Arrellano.

Garcia testified and said he knew both Carter and Whitehead. He said he had a briefcase that he kept under his bed in the motel and that Carter, Whitehead, and Pavona all knew about the briefcase. In addition, he said that Carter had borrowed money from him in the past but always paid off his debt.

Arrellano testified that the attackers forced their way into the motel room. He said they wore masks with “holes for the eyes and the mouth” and that only a small patch of skin between the chest and lower neck was visible. One of the men hit Arrellano with a club and stole Garcia’s briefcase from under the bed while the other man began stabbing Nunez-Reyes and demanding money.

Arrellano identified Carter as one of the attackers, testifying that he recognized him by his “body shape” and “the way he spoke.”

During cross-examination, Arrellano was questioned about why he initially told investigators he did not recognize either assailant. He said he had been nervous because “nothing like this had happened before.”

Andrews testified that she saw the men in the hallway. She said neither wore masks and one of them carried a “clear case.” She testified that she got a side view of the men from about 10 yards away as they ran into the motel parking lot. She also made an in-court identification of Carter.

Confronted with her previous statement that she didn’t recognize either assailant, Andrews first responded that she had not read or signed the statement. After she was shown her signature on the statement, Andrews said that what she had meant was that she did not know either assailant personally. But she and Carter were acquaintances, and Andrews testified that she and Carter’s wife talked about the murder the day after it happened.

Ford also testified about the investigation, which he said shifted after Pavona mentioned that a man named “Joe,” who used to live at the motel, and a friend were looking for money and that they knew about Garcia’s briefcase. After Pavona made that disclosure, Ford said, he focused on Carter and placed his photo in arrays shown to Pavona, Arrellano, and Andrews.

Carter testified in his own defense. He said he was with his wife and three children on the night of the murder. He said he had borrowed money from Nunez-Reyes and Garcia in the past but worked off the debt each time. He also said he did not own any coats with emblems, insignias, or stripes.

Carter’s wife, Cheryl Tankard, supported his alibi. She also testified that during the four months in 1989 that she, Carter, and their children lived at the Silver Sands, she had seen prostitutes frequently visit Garcia’s room.

Carter’s most important witness was an attorney named Pasquale Cannavino. He had represented Carter in a workers’ compensation claim, which resulted in Carter receiving a lump sum of $9,000 in 1989 for the loss of several fingers in his dominant hand due to a workplace accident.

The jury convicted Carter of first-degree murder, robbery, attempted robbery, and burglary on June 27, 1990. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Carter was released from prison on parole on November 4, 2016. On March 12, 2018, the Innocence Project at the University of Virginia School of Law, working with a pro bono attorney at the Davis Polk law firm in New York, submitted a pardon application to then-Governor Terry McAuliffe.

The application noted the conflicting witness statements about the assailant’s attire and their initial inability to make an identification. It also said the prosecution’s theory of the crime made no sense.

First, Carter had just received a big lump sum for an injury that left him without full use of his dominant hand. Second, the robbery was of a co-worker who lived at a cheap motel, a place where Carter once lived and people would recognize him. Third, if Carter and Whitehead were going to rob someone, why would they tip off Pavona ahead of time? And finally, despite the savagery of the attack, no forensic or physical evidence connected Carter to the crime.

“Needless to say,” the petition said, “that theory is nothing more than a series of tenuous inferences based solely on a foundation of flawed eyewitness testimony. Put simply, it strains logic.”

The petition also said that Carter’s trial attorney had been ineffective. Whitehead was acquitted a week earlier, and the petition said that the attorney should have presented testimony from a man who testified at Whitehead’s trial about Carter’s demeanor and behavior in the hours after the murder.

But at the heart of the flawed case, the petition said, was the likelihood of misconduct by Detective Ford. He was the lead investigator in the case of the “Norfolk Four,” which led to the wrongful convictions of Eric Wilson, Danial Williams, Derek Tice, and Joseph Dick Jr.

On October 27, 2010, a federal jury convicted Ford of two counts of extortion and one of lying to the FBI. He was sentenced to 12 1/2 years in prison. Ford was convicted of shaking down criminal defendants for thousands of dollars in return for falsely identifying them as informants who had helped solve homicides. Ford was responsible for “closing” nearly 200 homicides over his nearly 30-year career and the identities of most of his “informants” remained secret.

Carter’s petition said that Ford interrogated Pavona by himself, without recording any part of it. He also did not appear to have investigated Pavona’s involvement in the crime, despite the presence of his fingerprints in the room. “Instead, Detective Ford plowed ahead, arresting Mr. Carter, and getting Mr. Arrellano and Ms. Andrews to identify him as the attacker,” the petition said. “This is, unfortunately, not at all surprising. As is clear now, Detective Ford made a career of this type of coaxing, pressuring, and even threatening witnesses to obtain the evidence and testimony necessary to secure convictions.”

On October 15, 2018, Carter’s legal team sent the governor’s pardon office an affidavit from Andrews, recanting her trial testimony. “The truth is that I have no idea who committed this crime, because I did not get a good look at either man,” she said. Andrews said at the time of the murder, she was in an abusive relationship and would have said anything if she believed it would help her desperate situation.

On August 13, 2021, Gov. Ralph Northam, who succeeded McAuliffe, granted Carter an absolute pardon. He said that Carter had been a model prisoner, successfully finished his parole, and maintained steady employment until forced to retire on disability.

In addition, the pardon noted the lack of physical evidence or motive and the strong likelihood of witness misidentification and “reflects Mr. Carter’s innocence.” It also said Carter “was an unfortunate victim of Norfolk Detective Glenn Ford, who used his official capacity to extort witnesses in order to yield high solvability percentages and was eventually convicted on federal charges.”

The Virginia General Assembly enacted legislation on April 11, 2022, paying Carter $1.5 million in compensation for his wrongful conviction.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 8/24/2021
Last Updated: 4/22/2022
County:Norfolk City
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Robbery, Attempt, Violent, Burglary/Unlawful Entry
Reported Crime Date:1989
Age at the date of reported crime:
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No