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Rodolfo Taylor

Other Suffolk County, New York, Exonerations
On July 3, 1984, Suffolk County, New York police arrested 23-year-old Rodolfo Taylor on charges he committed four gas station robberies on Long Island in 1984. The charges were all based on eyewitness identifications. No fingerprints or other physical or forensic evidence connected Taylor to the crimes.

Taylor was charged with the February 22 robbery of 21-year-old Gary Meeanhan at a Texaco station near exit 55 on Motor Parkway in Brentwood, New York.

He was also charged with robbing the same Shell station at Islip Avenue off the Heckscher State Parkway on three occasions—May 29, June 2, and June 10. On May 29 and June 2, 21-year-old Daniel Farrell was the attendant in charge when the robberies occurred. During the June 2 robbery, Dennis Ford, another employee who was not on duty, and Ford’s girlfriend, Kathleen Young, also were present and witnessed the crime.

During the June 10 robbery, the attendant, 22-year-old Harold Bailey, was victimized.

Police said that all five witnesses had identified Taylor as the perpetrator, although descriptions of the robber varied.

In June 1985, Taylor went to trial in Suffolk County Supreme Court for the February 22 robbery and the June 2 robbery. The prosecution had dropped the charge relating to the May 29 robbery. The June 10 robbery charge was severed because Bailey was not available to testify.

A detective testified that on July 3, 1984, he conducted live lineups and Farrell, Meeanhan, Ford, and Young identified Taylor as the robber.

Meeanhan testified that on February 22, he was inside the office of the Texaco station when a Black man got out of a van and came into the station at about 2 a.m. Meeanhan said the man was 5 feet 11 inches to 6 feet tall, in his late 20s, and had short curly black hair. The man asked for a pack of cigarettes.

Meeanhan turned around and grabbed the cigarettes. When he turned back, the man put a knife to Meeanhan’s abdomen and demanded money. Meeanhan handed over the money in his pocket and opened the cash drawer. The man reached in, grabbed the cash, and ran to the van, which drove off.

Farrell testified that on June 2, he was working at the Shell station when Ford and Young arrived. He said that shortly before midnight, they were sitting on the curb near the entrance to the station when a Black man approached. They described him as 20 to 23 years old, 6 feet to 6 feet 1 inch tall with a tight Afro hairdo, a small mustache, and a goatee.

Farrell told the jury that he stood up as the man approached. As the man got closer, the man demanded, “Who’s got the money?” Farrell said he ran across the street to another gas station to call 911.

Young testified that the man then said that if he did not get the money from the station, he would start shooting—although no gun was displayed.

Ford testified that he told the man he didn’t have any money. The man then went into the station, took $60 from the cash drawer, and ran back from the direction he had come from.

Young said she followed him for a short distance and saw him get into a car parked on the street. Meanwhile, Ford had called the police.

A detective testified that although Taylor had a 1½ inch scar near his left eye, none of the witnesses mentioned it during their descriptions of the robber.

Beverly Woods and Richard Froberg testified as defense witnesses. Woods said she had known Taylor for five years and that he had that scar during that time. Froberg testified that Taylor had worked for him and that in February and June, Taylor was clean shaven. He did not have a mustache or goatee.

On June 27, 1985, the jury convicted Taylor of two counts of first-degree robbery. He was sentenced to nine to 18 years in prison.

In September 1985, Taylor went to trial for the June 10 Shell station robbery. Harold Bailey testified that at about 11:45 p.m., he was measuring the level in one of the underground gas tanks when he noticed a Black man riding a bicycle on the sidewalk. Bailey said the man was tall and thin.

Bailey said that he began to back up when the man approached and unfolded a knife with a five-inch blade. He said the man asked, “Hey, what’s up, dude?”

Bailey said he immediately ran across the street to an Exxon gas station to call police. From the Exxon station, Bailey saw the man enter the station booth, and remove a bundle containing $50 in cash from the cash drawer.

Bailey also testified that a car containing two women pulled into the station. He said one of the women got out and that about that time, the robber got back on his bicycle. Bailey said the man rode toward him.

Bailey said he dropped the phone and began to retreat. He heard the robber say, “Stop or I’ll shoot.” Bailey then ran back to the Shell station. When he turned around, he saw the robber riding north along Route 111.

Bailey told police the robber was in his early 20s, had a short Afro, and was about 6 feet tall with a thin face and hollow cheeks.

Bailey testified that he identified Taylor in a photographic lineup and in a live lineup.

During cross-examination, Bailey admitted that he told police that the person he selected—Taylor—had a different hairstyle than the robber.

Jacqueline Davis and Beverly Woods testified for the defense. Davis said she and a co-worker were driving to work and stopped at the station to buy cigarettes. Davis said she thought the man in the booth was an employee. When she asked for two packs of cigarettes, he walked away. After waiting for several minutes, she saw Bailey run to the station. He asked that they remain to talk to the police. Davis described the robber as 18 or 19 years old with a short Afro.

Davis testified that although she did not know Taylor personally, she knew him from the neighborhood. She said Taylor was not the man she saw in the station booth.

Woods testified that she was with Taylor from about 11 a.m. until midnight on the day of the robbery. She said that at about 8 p.m., they were at the Taste of Honey tavern and had an argument over a gold chain.

Taylor testified and denied committing the crime. He said he was with Woods until about 12:30 a.m., and that he left the bar following their argument over the chain. He denied owning a bicycle.

The prosecution presented evidence that Taylor had been arrested at about 4:45 p.m. on a marijuana possession charge and was released about 6 p.m. the evening of the robbery.

On September 26, 1985, the jury convicted Taylor of first-degree robbery. He was sentenced to another term of nine to 18 years to be served consecutive to the same term he received for the other two robberies.

His convictions were upheld on direct appeal. A federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus was denied.

In 2006, more than 20 years later, while in the prison law library, a fellow inmate suggested that he file a public records request. Taylor filed a request with the Suffolk County Police Department, which sent him numerous documents—none of which had been disclosed by the prosecution at the time of Taylor’s trials.

These documents included reports showing that:

--Two days after Meeanhan was robbed, he told police he was unable to identify a suspect, but that a man named “Van Taylor” resembled the robber. When Meeanhan viewed a lineup with Van Taylor, he was unable to make an identification.

-- On June 12, Farrell selected Lawrence Caudle from a photographic lineup. He said, “I picked out #1 with no hesitation and state without doubt this is the same subject that robbed me on May 29th and again on June 2, 1984. I now know this subject to be Lawrence Caudle.”

--On June 14, Farrell viewed another photographic array. “I picked out the one that closely resembles [the] one that robbed me on 2 different occasions, I put my initials on the back of the picture and I now know this subject to be Forlando Carlton.”

--On June 12, 1984, Young viewed a photographic lineup. She said that Lawrence Caudle “looked much like the man who I saw commit the Robbery on June 2, 1984.”

--On June 14, 1984, Ford also selected Forlando Carlton. He said, “The reason I picked this one is because I am almost positive that this is the Black male that had robbed me, and if he had a little bit of facial hair I would say that he is definitely the one.”

-On June 11, 1984, Harold Bailey viewed numerous photo books of mugshots. Afterward, police wrote: “This victim states that he cannot positively identify anyone and would not be able to identify anyone in a lineup but did pick out one CALLAWAY, ROBERT… as a possible look-alike.”

On December 22, 2009, based on the discovery of these reports, Taylor, acting without a lawyer, filed a post-conviction motion to vacate his convictions. On February 12, 2010, Taylor was released on parole. He had spent 24 years, 7 months, and 17 days in prison since the date of his first conviction.

In November 2011, Judge Stephen Braslow denied Taylor’s motion for a new trial. In April 2014, the Appellate Division overturned Judge Braslow’s ruling, and ordered a hearing to determine whether evidence had been withheld and if so, whether it had an impact on Taylor’s right to a fair trial. At a hearing in July 2014, Taylor’s trial defense lawyer, Martha Palmer Rodgers, who was at the time of the trial a staff attorney for the Suffolk County Legal Aid Society, testified that she never saw the reports. She said she would have used them if she had them.

The trial prosecutor testified that she had listed on the outside of a folder the dates of documents that she had provided to the defense. None of the dates corresponded to the dates on the six reports that Taylor had received pursuant to his public records request. Still, Judge Braslow denied the motion for a new trial.

In 2016, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office agreed to revisit the case at the request of the Legal Aid Society. The District Attorney’s office assigned a senior level prosecutor to review the case. Subsequently, the office concluded there was a “substantial likelihood” that the reports had not been disclosed to Taylor’s defense lawyer at the time of his trials and may have had an adverse impact.

While this review was in progress, Timothy Sini, the newly elected district attorney, created a Conviction Integrity Bureau (CIB). In April 2018, Kirk Brandt, attorney in the appeals bureau of the Legal Aid Society, sent a seven-page letter outlining the evidence that had been withheld and how, as a result, Taylor’s trial had been unfair. He asked the CIB to review the case.

“It is evident that the failure to provide Mr. Taylor’s trial counsel with the aforementioned exculpatory documents undermined the integrity of his convictions and allowed an injustice to take place,” Brandt said.

On December 2, 2021, Assistant District Attorney Craig McElwee filed a 25-page affirmation in support of a motion to vacate Taylor’s convictions. While the prosecution said there was “insufficient evidence for exoneration,” it had reached a “secure conclusion” that Taylor did not get a fair trial because of the failure to disclose the reports.

“It is the position of the CIB that the facts as detailed herein clearly establish that the ideals of justice and fundamental fairness have been violated in this instance and vacatur of the convictions is appropriate,” McElwee wrote. Witnesses are either dead or unable to remember details, he said. “Therefore, the indictments must be dismissed because the cases could not be reprosecuted at this time.”

On January 27, 2022, the convictions were vacated, and the charges were dismissed.

After the hearing, Taylor, surrounded by family members and friends, declared, "It's very rewarding. It took patience, perseverance and good family."

Louis Mazzola, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society who worked with fellow Legal Aid lawyer Kirk Brandt on Taylor’s case for a decade, said, "He has never once wavered in his claim of innocence.”

On July 18, 2022, Taylor filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit against Suffolk County and several officers, seeking compensation for his wrongful conviction. The lawsuit was settled in 2023 for $12.8 million. In 2023, he also filed a claim for state compensation. He settled that claim in 2024 for $1 million.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/6/2022
Last Updated: 4/4/2024
State:New York
Most Serious Crime:Robbery
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1984
Sentence:18 to 36 years
Age at the date of reported crime:23
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No