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Shaun Jenkins

Other Suffolk County, Massachusetts Exonerations
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At about 9:15 p.m., on December 15, 2001, 30-year-old Stephen Jenkins was murdered as he sat behind the wheel of his car near the intersection of Juliette and Linden Streets in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts.

When police arrived, Jenkins was slumped over the steering wheel. The engine was running, music was playing and the passenger door was open. Jenkins had been shot twice, once in the right side of the head and once in the right side of his neck where it met his shoulder. A pathologist who conducted an autopsy concluded the entry wounds were consistent with the shots being fired from outside the passenger door.

One bullet was found in Jenkins’s body. The other was recovered in the car. A police firearms analysis indicated the bullets were .380 caliber. Two .380-caliber shell casings were found outside the passenger side of the car. No gun was ever recovered.

A witness, Karen Heinen, told police that she was unloading groceries from her car when she noticed Jenkins’s car, a silver Lincoln, drive slowly by. She said Jenkins looked “mellow,” but his passenger, who she said was about 15 years old, kept twisting his head back and forth as if looking for a parking space or someone. She said the youth was at least 15 years younger than Jenkins and that he looked back and forth between five and 10 times. A few minutes later, she was walking up the stairs to her apartment when she heard a gunshot. When she got to her apartment and looked out the window, she saw the Lincoln standing still with the passenger door open in a way that didn’t seem right. She called 911 and went downstairs. She saw Jenkins slumped over the wheel.

Boston police detective Daniel Keeler, a highly decorated officer who was known as “Mr. Homicide,” was the lead detective on the case. Other evidence recovered from the car and vicinity included $310 and a phonebook from Jenkins, two plastic bags of crack cocaine from the floor of the front passenger side of the car, and Jenkins’s cell phone.

The following afternoon, Karen Brown, Jenkins’s girlfriend, told police that at about 9:30 p.m. the night before—just as police were arriving and securing the crime scene—a friend named Dennis Jones came to her apartment to tell her that Jenkins had been killed. Jones told her he learned this because he called Jenkins’s cell phone and a police officer who answered told him. On December 19, 2001, the murder investigation became a family affair when 30-year-old Craig Jenkins, who was Stephen Jenkins’s cousin, implicated 23-year-old Shaun Jenkins in the murder. Shaun was also a cousin to Stephen and Craig.

Craig Jenkins told Detective Keeler that Shaun and Stephen were feuding over drug sales. Craig said that both were dealing drugs and that Shaun was angry because Stephen, who had returned earlier in the year from Arizona, had begun selling to some of Shaun’s customers on the Cape. Craig said he was in a van with Shaun on December 9 when Shaun said that he had asked Stephen to stop, but Stephen refused. Craig told Keeler that Shaun had recounted an incident that occurred days before Stephen was killed. In that incident, Shaun confronted Stephen in a barbershop, pulled a gun and attempted to shoot Stephen, but the gun jammed and Shaun left. During this conversation, Craig quoted Shaun as saying he was going to “erase” Stephen.

On December 21, police executed a search warrant for the home in Fall River, Massachusetts where Shaun lived with his girlfriend, Kenitra Newton. Both falsely claimed that Shaun had been in North Carolina at the time of the shooting. When police noticed that Shaun had a bruised and swollen left eye, Shaun said that Newton had hit him with a bowl. Shaun also said that Stephen had told him about losing $2,000 worth of drugs and that on the day of the shooting, Stephen asked him about getting some drugs.

Shaun admitted that he had had an altercation with Stephen at a barbershop and that the two of them had a recent falling out.

In January 2002, Newton testified before a grand jury that on December 14—the day before the shooting—Stephen called her more than once asking if he could stay at her house. Newton said Shaun had told her that Stephen owed someone $3,000 worth of cocaine and that Stephen wanted to hide out. That grand jury investigation went nowhere.

In April 2002, another grand jury was convened. Newton’s testimony was read to the grand jury and more witnesses testified, including Tamiesha Miranda and her mother, Janet Riordan.

Riordan said she had been introduced to Shaun through Doreen Fernandes and Dia DiMiranda, two women with whom she regularly used drugs. Riordan and Miranda testified that in late November 2001, Miranda first met and began dating Stephen. They also corroborated certain details that Craig Jenkins had reported, including that Shaun was upset at Stephen for undercutting his drug prices and stealing customers. Miranda said she went with Stephen to the barbershop and on the way, she heard him fighting on the phone with Shaun. She said that after they arrived at the barbershop, Shaun arrived as well. Both went outside where Shaun pulled a gun on Stephen, Miranda said.

Riordan said that on the day before the shooting, Stephen and Shaun got into a fight and Stephen beat him up. That beating accounted for the injury to Shaun’s eye, Riordan said. Miranda told the grand jury that on the morning of the shooting, Shaun and Stephen made up. Stephen told her, “Everything is cool,” Miranda said.

Miranda and Riordan confirmed that Stephen was buying drugs from someone in Boston. Miranda recounted a recent occasion in which Stephen told her to throw some drugs out of the car to avoid detection and when they returned, they could not find them. Miranda said the last time she saw him alive was at 7 p.m., about two hours before he was killed. He was going to “re-up” with his supplier, she said.

In August 2002, Craig Jenkins was called before the grand jury. He invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege and declined to testify. In October 2002, Craig was called back. This time, he testified and recounted the information he had given to Detective Keeler in December 2001.

In December 2002, an arrest warrant was issued for Shaun. On December 26, he surrendered and was charged with first-degree murder.

In April 2003, the grand jury indicted Shaun on a charge of first-degree murder. The prosecutor who handled the grand jury investigation, Lynn Brennan, was replaced by Timothy Bradl, who was assigned to take the case to trial.

In April 2005, Shaun went to trial in Suffolk County Superior Court. His defense attorney sought to show that Stephen’s drug supplier had a motive to kill Stephen—the unpaid drug debt.

The prosecution asked the trial judge to bar any reference to Stephen’s drug supplier as the killer. The prosecution argued that the defense failed to show the identity of the supplier or to present admissible evidence of the supplier’s motive to commit the murder. Each time the defense lawyer sought to elicit testimony regarding Stephen’s loss of drugs, the prosecution objected on the grounds that “there’s no evidence…whatsoever” that Stephen owed a drug debt to his unnamed supplier.

The trial judge ultimately agreed with the prosecution and ruled that the defense had failed to identify the supplier or to present any non-hearsay evidence of that person’s motive to harm Stephen.

Prior to the trial, Doreen Fernandes made a tape-recorded statement to Detective Keeler during which she recounted how after Stephen’s death, she heard Shaun threaten to “take care of” someone “like I did Steve.”

When Fernandes was called as a prosecution witness, she first insisted that Stephen never did anything that affected Shaun’s drug sales. During a lunch recess, Detective Keeler approached Fernandes in the lobby. When the trial resumed, the court was informed that Keeler bought her lunch, played her earlier statement for her, and helped her to “relax” before resuming her testimony.

A relative of both Stephen and Shaun said, however, that he saw Keeler corner Fernandes and say, “that’s not what you said before” and “if you don’t say…you’ll go to jail.“

When Fernandes got back on the witness stand, she was asked to “revisit” her earlier testimony. Now she said that Stephen produced bigger bags of crack cocaine than Shaun did and sold them to Shaun’s customers. She also said that this essentially “robbed [Shaun] of his drugs and money” and that Shaun was “going to get him.” She also said that she had heard Shaun threaten to take care of someone “like I did Steve.”

On April 28, 2005, the jury convicted Shaun Jenkins of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Jenkins filed a motion for a new trial in July 2008. He argued, in part, that his trial lawyer had provided an inadequate legal defense by promising—but not delivering—evidence that someone else had a motive to kill Stephen. The motion was denied after the prosecution said that there was no evidence of links to acts of another person that would have cast doubt on evidence that Shaun Jenkins killed Stephen.

Jenkins argued on appeal that his defense lawyer prevented him from testifying at the trial and that he could have provided the evidence necessary to show that Stephen owed money to his suppliers for drugs he had lost. The prosecution successfully argued that this would have been insufficient and noted that the defense lawyer had admitted not knowing the name of Stephen’s supplier. The appeal was unsuccessful.

In 2012, Jenkins filed a petition for a federal writ of habeas corpus, but that was denied in 2014.

In 2011, Jenkins applied to the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPSC) Innocence Program, and his case was accepted for further investigation. After several years of investigation, the lawyer assigned by the Innocence Program filed another motion for a new trial. The motion was based in part on recantations from Craig Jenkins, who disavowed his trial testimony. Craig said he was told that Mike White (who had subsequently died in 2002) had “fronted” 4.5 ounces of crack cocaine to Stephen. Craig said he learned this from Mark Gaines, who had been White’s roommate at the time. White expected to get paid when Stephen sold the drugs, but Craig now said Stephen had lost the drugs and never paid White. Craig said he now believed that White killed Stephen or had him killed.

In addition, the motion said that Detective Keeler engaged in misconduct by improperly incentivizing witnesses to testify against Shaun Jenkins. Craig stated that Keeler paid him $100 prior to his grand jury testimony. Doreen Fernandes recanted her trial testimony and said that Keeler pressured her to testify favorably for the prosecution, including by offering her a cash payment of $100. (Fernandes later recanted her recantation.) The motion also included media accounts of a history of misconduct by Keeler in other criminal matters.

The motion was accompanied by an affidavit from Jermaine Taylor, who said that White had fronted him some drugs in 2000 and when he had trouble selling the drugs, White said he would “come and see” him. Taylor understood that to mean that White was threatening to kill him.

The motion noted that on the day Stephen was killed, White lived less than two blocks from where the murder occurred. In addition, the motion claimed that Shaun did not fit the description of the passenger in the car with Stephen just before he was shot. Heinen, the witness, said the passenger was about 15 years younger than the 30-year-old Stephen. In addition, Shaun had a badly bruised eye that Heinen never mentioned even though she said she made eye contact with the passenger.

The prosecution argued that the affidavits were not credible and that there was no credible evidence of any connection between White and the murder. The court agreed, and the motion was denied.

In addition, the motion noted that Detective Keeler had been involved in the wrongful conviction cases of Donnell Johnson, Marlon Passley, and Sean Ellis. In addition, the motion noted other cases in which Keeler was the lead detective:

--Keeler accused William Leyden of the 2001 murder of his brother, Jackie, who was found decapitated in his home. Keeler arrested William Leyden because his brother’s DNA was found in his car. In February of 2004, however, Eugene McCallum, a man with whom Jackie Leyden previously fought and who was at the victim’s house the night of his death, confessed to the murder. The charges against William Leyden were dismissed.

--In April 2004, Keeler testified in the trial of Kyle Bryant. Keeler had obtained a confession from 17-year-old Bryant. The tape revealed Keeler’s aggressive questioning. In addition, some portions of the interrogation were not taped at all. Bryant was acquitted on April 29, 2004.

--In November 2004, Keeler testified in the prosecution of James Bush and was shown to have made false statements in five sworn affidavits and in his police report in that case. Bush was acquitted on November 9, 2004.

--In December 2004, Keeler testified as the lead investigator in the trial of Marquis Nelson and Joseph Cousin. There, Keeler obtained a key statement from the prosecution’s 15-year-old key witness by questioning him without his parent or guardian present. Nelson was acquitted on December 22, and the next day the prosecution moved for a mistrial in the case against Cousin.

By the end of 2004, Det. Keeler had been removed from the Homicide Unit. And although Keeler did not testify at Shaun’s trial, he was consulted frequently by the trial prosecutor, according to the motion.

In 2020, at the request of CPCS Innocence Program Director Lisa Kavanaugh, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office Integrity Review Bureau (IRB), opened the prosecution file in the case.

Based on the evidence found in the files, Shaun moved to reopen his second motion for a new trial. The files revealed key evidence that the prosecution had never disclosed to the defense, including:

--The prosecution knew two and a half years prior to trial that Stephen got his drugs from Mike White, and that when Stephen was killed, he owed White $3,000 because he lost a stash of drugs that White had fronted to him. The prosecution also knew that White lived only a block and a half from the murder scene.

--Phone records from Stephen’s cell phone showing that Stephen called White five times the day Stephen was murdered, including twice just before he was fatally shot. The last call to White, which lasted three minutes, was at 8:54 p.m., about 20 minutes before Stephen was killed.

--Phone records from Stephen’s cell phone showing that Stephen repeatedly called a number registered to Clinton Jones during the last two days of his life. Once this information was revealed, a defense investigation showed that Clinton’s son, Dennis Jones Sr., knew Stephen and Mike White. Dennis Jones had a son, Dennis Jones Jr., who was 14 years old at the time of the murder. The records showed that every time Stephen called White and was unable to reach him, Stephen immediately called the number listed to Clinton Jones. The defense noted that it seemed likely that Dennis Jr. matched the description that Heinen gave of the front seat passenger.

--Detective Keeler kept electronic notes that he did not disclose to the prosecution. These notes documented the $100 payment to Craig Jenkins.

The prosecution file also revealed an internal memorandum, written by the prosecutor, Lynn Brennan, who handled the grand jury investigation. The memo, dated April 3, 2003, she stated: “I do not believe that there is sufficient evidence with which to charge Shaun Jenkins in connection with the December 15, 2001 homicide of Stephen Jenkins.” Brennan added that there was evidence that Stephen went to Boston that evening to “re-up” with his drug supplier; “that he owed a drug debt to that supplier, and that the supplier lived only 1.5 blocks away from where the shooting happened.”

Brennan noted that Keeler “and his squad and the family of Stephen Jenkins feel strongly that Shaun Jenkins should be prosecuted…regardless of the likely unfavorable outcome.”

The evidence showed that in January 2003, Keeler recorded an interview with Fernandes in which she claimed that Shaun said he would take care of someone like he had taken care of Stephen. The day after Brennan wrote the memorandum, she went back to the grand jury with the recording and the indictment was approved.

Moreover, the prosecution file included an email from the trial prosecutor, Timothy Bradl, to the homicide squad saying that one of the “pillars of proving this case” was “debunking the drug dealer (now dead?) as the ‘real killer.’”

On September 24, 2021, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Kenneth Salinger–the same judge who denied Shaun’s 2016 new trial motion–granted a stay of execution of Shaun’s sentence, and Shaun was released from prison.

On December 3, 2021, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office filed a response, conceding that police reports and cell phone records should have been disclosed at the time of Shaun’s trial and agreeing that the defense motion for a new trial should be granted. Not only should the payment of $100 to Craig Jenkins have been disclosed, but also his roundtrip airfare to testify before the grand jury, the prosecution said.

As for the cell phone records, the prosecution noted: “In addition to providing scaffolding for a potential third-party culprit defense, generally the cellphone records also could have also been used to corroborate calls that Stephen made to [Shaun’s] girlfriend and…aunt when he was looking for a place to hide after he incurred a debt to his drug supplier.”

While the prosecution noted that Craig and Fernandes had subsequently recanted their recantations, it conceded that there was evidence that should have been disclosed to the defense.

On December 20, 2021, Judge Salinger vacated Shaun’s conviction and granted him a new trial. The judge cited the cell phone records as well as the evidence the prosecution had gathered regarding Mike White and Stephen’s unpaid debt.

The judge noted that the prosecutor had written an internal memo documenting that evidence. The prosecution was not required to share the entire memo, the judge noted, “But once the prosecutor learned that detectives had gathered exculpatory evidence confirming Stephen’s drug debt, the identity of his drug supplier, and where the supplier lived, she had an obligation to have that information put in writing so that she could turn it over to defense counsel.”

“Justice was not done,” Justice Salinger declared. “The Commonwealth denied Jenkins a fair trial. The conviction of first-degree murder is seriously tainted by the Commonwealth’s misconduct and should not stand.”

After the ruling, Kavanaugh said, “We have a police department that decided they knew what happened and therefore failed to investigate this other person. Then we have a prosecutor who capitalized on the defense’s ignorance of that information during the course of trial.”

Rachel Rollins, Suffolk County District Attorney, declared in a statement: "It is clear that justice was not done here. When there is misconduct and/or material errors are made by law enforcement, including a prosecutor, we must always correct those errors. That is a vitally important part of building trust back into the criminal legal system. By admitting when we make mistakes or get it wrong, and then working hard to make it right, we actually gain credibility."

Rollins added, "Cumulatively, these errors were too much for the commonwealth to defend in any way under my administration. Although these errors and misconduct happened decades ago, we are experiencing the aftermath and ripple effects of the bad behavior in the present. I am deeply disappointed with what we found during our investigation but proud that we searched for the truth and did what was right when we found it."

On December 22, 2021, the District Attorney’s office dismissed the murder charge.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 1/13/2022
Last Updated: 1/13/2022
State:Massachusetts
County:Suffolk
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2001
Convicted:2005
Exonerated:2021
Sentence:Life without parole
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:23
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No