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Ivano Correia

Other Plymouth County, MA, Exonerations
At about 3:30 a.m. on January 16, 2011, three masked gunmen broke into a three-story apartment building on Pleasant Street in Brockton, Massachusetts. They terrorized the occupants of apartments on the first and third floors and eventually fled with three televisions, a laptop computer, cash, jewelry, and other valuables.

The first apartment they entered was that of 37-year-old Shawn McDonald and his 29-year-old girlfriend, Jennifer Armstrong. They dragged Armstrong, naked, across the hall to the apartment of 50-year-old Paula Brown, Armstrong’s mother, who was not home. McDonald, a chronic alcohol user, was groggy and difficult to rouse awake because he had taken sleep medication. McDonald would later testify that one of the men slapped him a few times to wake him up.

McDonald then was forced across the hall. Both were tied up and put in the same bed. McDonald said he believed the men were Cape Verdean because their accent was similar to that of his upstairs neighbor, Nate Vicente, who was a native of the Cape Verde Islands. The intruders took a television, a pea coat, video consoles and games, jewelry, cash, and a laptop from the first floor.

The second-floor apartments were vacant. On the third floor, there was a single apartment where Vicente lived with his partner, Julia Mendes, and their nine-year-old daughter. Vicente, who was a drug dealer, was not home at the time. While one man was ransacking the first-floor apartments, the two others went to the third floor. They put a gun to Mendes’s head and demanded money and drugs. Eventually, they left with two televisions, a laptop, a cell phone, and some gold. Mendes never saw their faces.

When police arrived, McDonald said all of the men wore masks. He said one was short and stocky and carried a nine-millimeter pistol. He said the second man was tall with a black hoodie and carried a .38-caliber long-barreled revolver. The third was of medium height with a black hoodie and a .38-caliber revolver, McDonald said. The second man was the one who stayed on the first floor with McDonald while the other two went upstairs. At the time, McDonald said nothing about seeing the second man’s face.

Police did not check for fingerprints because McDonald said all three were wearing gloves. The building did not have security cameras.

McDonald and Armstrong moved into a motel because they no longer felt safe in the building. Six days later, on January 22, a motel security guard brought them a copy of the Brockton Enterprise newspaper. A front-page article announced a crackdown on drug trafficking, and was accompanied by 20 photographs of people wanted for drug crimes. McDonald thought he recognized the photograph of 28-year-old Ivano Correia as the man who lifted his mask during the home invasion.

The following day, January 23, McDonald and Armstrong returned to the apartment to clean up. While they were there, Vicente stopped by with a copy of the same newspaper article. Vicente pointed to Correia’s photograph and asked McDonald if Correia was one of the robbers. McDonald said yes and decided to call the police.

On February 2, 2011, a Brockton police detective interviewed McDonald. For the first time, McDonald said that the man he now recognized as Correia had lifted his mask. McDonald said he got a clear look at the man’s face from the front. McDonald said the man raised his mask for four or five seconds to wipe sweat from his face while he was breaking open a footlocker.

On February 28, 2011, Correia, a native of Cape Verde, was arrested. On September 8, 2011, McDonald testified before a grand jury that he was “pretty sure” that Correia was the suspect who had lifted his mask for “4-5 seconds.” Ultimately, Correia was indicted on charges of home invasion and four counts of larceny of more than $250. No other suspects were identified or arrested.

In November 2014, Correia went to trial in Plymouth County Superior Court. McDonald was the only witness who identified Correia. His confidence had risen from “pretty sure” initially to 100 percent sure by the time of trial. McDonald said that on the morning of the attack, after the police left at about 5 a.m., he had a panic attack and fell down the stairs from the third-floor apartment. He said he was taken by ambulance to Good Samaritan Hospital where he was diagnosed with head trauma and bruised ribs. McDonald said the injuries did not affect his ability to recognize Correia.

Armstrong testified that she could not identify anyone because she was lying face down on the bed during the home invasion.

On November 19, 2014, after less than two hours of deliberation, the jury convicted Correia of one count of home invasion and four counts of larceny of more than $250. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

The Massachusetts Appeals Court upheld the convictions in 2016.

In 2018, Lisa Kavanaugh, director of the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) Innocence Program, accepted Correia’s application for review of his convictions. Attorney Ethan Stiles was appointed by CPCS to investigate the case and subsequently filed a motion for a new trial.

An evidentiary hearing was held over three days in April and July 2021. Stiles and CPCS Innocence Program counsel Jill Tessier presented evidence that undercut the reliability of McDonald’s identification of Correia.

The evidence showed that McDonald had worked for the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services (DYS) until he moved to Brockton. At that time, he stopped working for DYS due to health issues, including alcoholism. He had alcohol problems for several years prior to the home invasion and had been treated for psychiatric issues from November 2010 until 2018.

His medical records indicated he was taking an antidepressant and was a chronic alcoholic at high risk for withdrawal seizures. He also was subsequently diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Additionally, records were discovered showing that McDonald reported that he assaulted a man in a bar in May 2011, about four months after the home invasion. McDonald said at the time that he believed the man was the one he saw in the newspaper, the one he thought was Correia.

In 2018, McDonald provided two handwritten statements to Correia’s attorney. In one statement, McDonald said that when he was awakened on the morning of the attack, he “was in a fog, things [were] blurry and I was trying to get my bearings.” He said, “I only got a look at the right side of the perpetrator’s face.” In the second statement, McDonald said that on the night of the crime, he had taken his prescribed medication, and drank six beers and a pint of bourbon before going to bed.

McDonald testified at the 2021 evidentiary hearing that he had little recollection of the home invasion. He said he could not remember how many men were involved or what they were wearing. He did remember they carried guns, but not what kind.

His medical records from the morning of the home invasion said, “The patient apparently had a lot of alcohol to drink today and fell down an unknown number of stairs. The patient admits to alcohol. Just states that he does not remember the events of the fall.” McDonald was diagnosed with alcohol intoxication.

Dr. Nancy Franklin, a retired associate professor of psychology at Stony Brook University in New York, testified that there were a dozen factors present in the case that had an adverse effect on McDonald’s ability to identify anyone involved in the attack. For example, McDonald said he saw Correia’s face for only four or five seconds and, based on his 2018 statement, only saw it from the side. Other factors included event stress, brain trauma, alcohol intoxication, bipolar disorder, degradation of memory within days of an event (six days elapsed between the crime and the publication of Correia’s photograph in the newspaper), and post-event suggestion (Vicente pointing out Correia’s photo in the newspaper).

Dr. Franklin testified that these factors created a high risk that McDonald’s identification of Correia was unreliable.

Dr. Robert Joseph, a medical doctor and psychiatrist on staff at the Boston Medical Center, testified that it was more likely that McDonald fell down the stairs due to intoxication rather than as the result of a panic attack. Although a concussion was not diagnosed, Dr. Joseph said McDonald’s inability to remember the events suggests a concussion.

Dr. Joseph said that “to a reasonable degree of medical certainty” McDonald’s alcohol use on the night of the crime, his chronic alcohol use, his psychiatric medical and “probable concussion affect the reliability of his memory.”

On September 10, 2021, Superior Court Justice Angel Kelley vacated Correia’s convictions and ordered a new trial. She ruled that Correia’s trial defense lawyer had failed to obtain the medical records that could have been used to challenge McDonald’s identification of Correia.

Justice Kelley noted that on the eve of trial, Correia’s trial defense lawyer had requested money to consult an expert. The motion was denied because of its untimeliness and the lack of factual support for an expert’s testimony. “McDonald’s medical records would have bolstered Correia’s motion for expert funds,” Justice Kelley declared. “Defense counsel’s conduct with respect to that motion fell measurably below that expected from an ordinary fallible lawyer.”

“Even when the facts of a crime are as disturbing as those presented in this case, the trial process must be committed to convicting the right person,” Justice Kelley said. “The swiftness of the jury’s deliberation in a case where the sole eyewitness had a limited opportunity to view the intruder, along with the unusual nature of the identification process, the delay in reporting the identification, lack of expert testimony and with the benefit of [jury instructions that take into account the factors that contribute to misidentifications], create a lingering concern whether justice was truly done in this case.”

On September 17, 2021, the prosecution dismissed the charges and Correia was released. He had spent nearly seven years in custody after his conviction in 2014.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/12/2022
Last Updated: 2/12/2022
Most Serious Crime:Other Violent Felony
Additional Convictions:Theft
Reported Crime Date:2011
Sentence:20 years
Age at the date of reported crime:28
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No