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John Walker

Other Erie County, New York, Exonerations
Between 10:30 and 11:30 p.m. on January 2, 1976, 62-year-old William Crawford left the Golden Nugget bar in Buffalo, New York, for his home, which was just across the street on Fillmore Avenue.

Crawford’s body was found in his driveway the next morning. An autopsy would later say that Crawford was killed by several strong blows to his head.

Witnesses told police that Crawford was a regular at the Golden Nugget, and that he had been flashing a lot of cash and buying rounds for other customers in the hours before he left the bar with a man named Lawrence Watson, who also lived nearby.

The Buffalo Police Department investigated the case as a robbery-murder. Officers received an anonymous telephone call on January 3 that implicated a “Jerry Boyd” and a “Andrew Howe.” Using that information, they located a criminal record and a booking photo of a man named Jerome Boyd who also lived in the area. Employees of the bar recognized Boyd and said he had been at the Golden Nugget on January 2, 1976. Boyd was never interviewed by police.

As the investigation continued, detectives working the murder received another anonymous tip on January 7 that 16-year-old Darryn Gibson was involved with Crawford’s murder. Police brought Gibson in for questioning. He said that on the night in question he was playing cards in an apartment complex on Glenny Drive, about a half-mile away from Crawford’s house.

Gibson said he was playing cards with John Walker, Darryl Boyd, Floyd Martin, and Tyrone Woodruff. Martin lived in the apartment complex. Woodruff was 17 years old; the others were 16 years old. Several had minor arrest records. During the next few days, police interviewed the teenagers.

Woodruff would later say he was initially questioned without his parents being present. He denied any involvement in Crawford’s death. Separately, police interviewed Andre Hough, an acquaintance of the young men and the foster son of Boyd's aunt. Hough said that on the night of January 2, 1976, he heard them talking about wanting to get some money, and that they left him out because of concerns he would “squeal.”

After Hough gave his statement, the five teenagers were brought back to the police station on January 12, 1976. Woodruff was interviewed again and gave a statement that said he had participated in the robbery with his friends and that Gibson had hit Crawford in the head several times with a pipe. He agreed to testify and was not charged. The others were charged that day with second-degree murder and robbery. Collectively, the defendants and Woodruff became known as the “Buffalo 5.”

Gibson went to trial first, in January 1977, in Erie County Supreme Court. Prior to the trial, defense attorneys filed motions seeking “any and all records, documents and information which should be made available to the defense under the doctrine of Brady vs. Maryland, which evidence might tend to negate the guilt of this defendant.”

Prosecutors assured the court that the police had turned over the entire file to them and that all the evidence had been given to the defense.

There was no physical or forensic evidence tying the defendants to the murder. Watson testified about Crawford’s presence at the bar, how they had left together, and how he had last seen Crawford outside before going to their respective homes.

Woodruff testified that he had met up with his friends on January 2, and that Gibson had told the others that he was going to “get him some money tonight.” They left the Glenny Drive Apartments and walked the few blocks over to the Golden Nugget. He said Gibson and Boyd went inside, then came out and said there was a man in there with some money. Woodruff said they waited outside for the man to leave, watched him cross Fillmore Avenue, then ran up on him at the foot of the driveway. They asked the man for money. He told them to leave him alone. Woodruff said Gibson hit the man with a pipe, then they all dragged the man up the driveway to the back door and rifled through his clothes until they found his wallet.

Hough’s testimony corroborated part of Woodruff’s account, specifically the conversation in the apartment where Gibson was said to have stated his desire to get some money that night.

Gibson was convicted of second-degree murder and second-degree robbery on January 21, 1977, and later sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

Boyd’s trial came next. Woodruff testified that Boyd kicked Crawford after Gibson hit him with the pipe. He was convicted of the same charges on April 29, 1977, and later sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.

Walker’s trial was third. Prosecutors also used the testimony of Joseph Tatar, who was incarcerated with Walker and Gibson at the Erie County Jail. Tatar testified that he heard Walker ask Gibson why he had hit Crawford so hard. He also said that Walker had attempted to intimidate another inmate by stating “I murdered once, I’ll murder again.”

The jury convicted Walker of second-degree murder and second-degree robbery on June 13, 1977, and he was later sentenced to 17 years to life in prison.

Martin was tried last, and he was acquitted. Each of the teenagers was tried before all-white juries.

Woodruff recanted his testimony in 1985, stating that he had provided false testimony against Boyd and that Buffalo detectives had provided him with information about the crime. The recantation formed the basis of a post-conviction petition for relief filed by Boyd and Walker.

The motion was denied in 1987; Justice Theodore Kasler of Erie County Supreme court said the recantation was not credible, because it did not “set forth the exact nature of the allegedly false testimony.”

According to The Buffalo News, Gibson, Walker and Boyd were briefly incarcerated together at the Elmira Correctional Facility in Upstate New York, and they made a pact that whichever one was released first would begin the fight to clear their names. Walker was released from prison in 1998. Boyd was first paroled in 1999, but returned to prison four times for parole violations before his final release in 2014. Gibson was released in November 2008 and died in 2009. Martin died in 2015.

In 2012, Boyd filed a new motion for post-conviction relief, based in part on a more recent and extensive recantation by Woodruff in 2010. Unlike the 1985 statement, Woodruff now gave specific details of the ways in which he was pressured to inculpate himself and give false testimony against his friends.

For example, Woodruff said the police told him where the crime happened. “You know, it was on Fillmore, I know that much, but I never knew what house. If you wanted me to show you the house, I couldn't even show you the house. And I told them hours and hours and hours, I don't know what you're talking about, I don't know what you're talking about. I sobbed, I cried, I didn't know what you was talking about. On and on and on. It was like I was in a movie.”

During this deposition, Woodruff was asked what the police said would happen to him if he decided not to give a statement. He said they told him, “One of the other guys wanted to come down and sit in my chair.”

Woodruff said the police told him to testify that the teenagers dragged Crawford through the snow up to the back of the house. “As the years went by, what I learned was, what I said couldn't have happened, you know what I'm saying? Cause I found out that I said it was what, four or five of us, and we [were] in the yard, but it wasn't that many footprints in the yard.”

In his deposition Woodruff said he had apologized to Walker, Boyd and Gibson. “My thing was an apology can't undo what I've done. You know what I'm saying? But if I come forward and do this, it's not gonna give you your life or the time that you spent away from your families. But, you know, it will give you maybe peace, you know, give me a little peace. You know what I mean? Because I lived in a prison all my life after this happened, you know.”

In addition to Woodruff’s more substantial deposition, the motion also asserted that police and prosecutors had failed to disclose numerous documents that would have undermined Hough’s and Woodruff’s testimony. These records were found through a public-records request filed by Boyd’s attorney at the time, Stephen Cohen.

Most critically, the records said that Hough had attempted to take back his statements against Boyd and the others. In a report dated February 11, 1976, Detective Michael Guadagno said that Hough told him he wanted to change his testimony and that Boyd had never confessed to him that he took part in the murder.

Separately, police had interviewed two witnesses who said they had seen part of the attack as they walked down the street with another friend. One of the witnesses said the attackers had emerged from a vehicle, dragged Crawford up the driveway and then pinned him against the house. The other witness gave a different account. In his initial statements to police, Woodruff never mentioned any onlookers, but just before he testified in front of a grand jury, Woodruff expanded his account of the crime to include the presence of these witnesses, “two black dudes, and a black girl came by and they just looked and kept walking.” These witness statements also weren’t provided to the trial attorneys, the motion asserted.

In its response, the state disputed the claim that it failed to turn over any records. In an affidavit, Timothy Drury, one of the assistant district attorneys who prosecuted the cases, said that while he couldn’t recall the details after so many years, “I can state that if I stated, ‘I turned over all the [reports] to the defense’ on the record, I did in fact do so.” The state’s response also said that, even accepting the defense argument about the failure to disclose, none of the records created a reasonable doubt of Boyd’s guilt and required a new trial. A judge denied the motion in 2013.

Because Martin was acquitted, appellate attorneys for Boyd and Walker tried to understand why jurors in that case had reached a different verdict. Martin’s trial attorney, James McLeod, had an advantage in going last, which enabled him to see the state’s case unfold three times. But he also said he had critical evidence – photos of the crime scene – that attorneys for Boyd and Walker said their clients never received.

There was snow on the ground on the night Crawford died, and McLeod said the photos taken by police before investigators disturbed the crime scene showed a minimal amount of foot traffic around Crawford’s body, discrediting Woodruff’s testimony that five teenagers had swarmed Crawford and then dragged him up the driveway while he bled from getting hit with a pipe in the head.

In a 2020 affidavit, McLeod, now a retired Buffalo City Court judge, said: “Counsel for the defendants did not have access to all the evidence that I did during Mr. Martin's trial. I had access to crime scene photos that counsel for the other defendants did not. The prosecution's theory of the case was that the four defendants committed the crime together. The crime scene photos clearly showed that footprints at the scene were from only one assailant. The only footprints at the scene were the victim's and one assailant, a very large man.”

The affidavit was the basis for a motion for a new trial filed on October 13, 2020. Attorneys Paul Cambria and Justin Ginter argued that Boyd and Walker deserved a new trial for two different reasons. Either the state had failed to disclose these photos or the trial attorneys had provided ineffective assistance of counsel by their failure to ask for the photos.

The motion noted that the attorneys had made blanket requests for records, although neither specifically included photographs in the requests.

“Had trial counsel made a proper discovery demand, the outcome of Defendants' trials would certainly have been different, as it was for Mr. Martin,” the motion said. “Indeed, Mr. Woodruff's questionable testimony regarding the number of people at the crime scene would have been directly refuted by the photograph depicting only two sets of footprints.”

But absent a specific request, the state still should have turned over the photographs, the motion said, as the photographs fell into the blanket categories for records and documents, and they were clearly exculpatory.

“Defendants, along with defendant Gibson, did not have access to the photograph and were convicted after trial. Defendant Martin, who did have access to the photograph, was acquitted after trial,” the motion said.

An evidentiary hearing was held on June 3, 2021. McLeod testified, as did Drury and David Henry, the other assistant district attorney who prosecuted these cases. Because Martin was acquitted, there was no trial transcript, and the witnesses struggled to remember events from more than 40 years earlier.

Nine crime-scene photos were presented at the hearing. McLeod said that none were the two that he considered most critical to Martin’s defense. One photo, he recalled, showed Crawford’s driveway, with no sign of a body being dragged; the other showed footsteps in the back of the house. McLeod said a police detective testified that the footsteps had to have been made by a man who was at least six feet tall and weighed more than any of the defendants.

Henry did not remember that exchange, although records produced at the hearing show he wrote “No footprints in backyard” in his trial notes that included the detective’s testimony. Henry also testified that Hough’s testimony at the fourth trial was not as strong as at the previous three.

The state would later argue that because Boyd and Walker couldn’t prove the existence of the two photos, their trial attorneys could not be considered ineffective for failing to request them. “It is more likely that the relative strength of the cases, and not any photographs or testimony about footprints in the snow, were responsible for the disparate results.”

On August 18, 2021, Justice Christopher Burns of Erie County Supreme Court vacated Boyd’s and Walker’s convictions and ordered new trials.

In his ruling, Justice Burns said the passage of time made it difficult to prove what happened at the trials, but that Henry’s notation about the detective’s testimony provided some corroboration of McLeod’s account of the trial. Justice Burns said records from Gibson’s trial showed that there were at least three more photos than the nine presented at the hearing, but there was no way to know exactly what the missing photos showed. Without a transcript, Justice Burns wrote, it was impossible to know what took place at Martin’s trial.

“Uncertainty abounds,” he wrote. “The court is put in a position to make a decision based on available facts as best it can. After a thorough review of all the material submitted, including the court files maintained in the case, the court finds the scales tip ever so slightly in favor of the defendants.”

Erie County District Attorney John Flynn sharply criticized the ruling. He said his uncle, Edward Cosgrove, who was district attorney at the time of the trials, would have never railroaded a defendant or withheld evidence. But Flynn said he would not appeal the ruling or seek a retrial, calling such an effort “logistically and feasibly impossible even if I wanted to.”

Flynn dismissed the charges on September 23, 2021.

“It is a shame what we had to go through,” Boyd told The Buffalo News. “But God is good. People lie but evidence does not. The evidence shows we didn’t do it.”

Walker told the newspaper that he was overjoyed and also wondering what comes next. “What do you give somebody that you have taken everything away from? What can they do to make the remainder of my life right? That’s the step I am walking toward right now.”

In July 2022, Boyd and Walker filed federal civil rights lawsuits against the City of Buffalo, the County of Erie and several former police detectives seeking damages for their wrongful convictions.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 10/13/2021
Last Updated: 7/23/2022
State:New York
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Robbery
Reported Crime Date:1976
Sentence:17 to Life
Age at the date of reported crime:16
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No