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Tyree Lawson

Other Philadelphia Exonerations
At about 12:30 a.m. on July 11, 2006, shots were fired into a house on the west side of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. One bullet grazed the forehead of 16-year-old Rashan Brown, requiring stitches and a trip to the hospital.

Officers James Mostiller and Dennis Slobodian responded to the shooting and interviewed witnesses. Detective Mary Kuchinsky interviewed Brown at the hospital. According to her notes of the interview, Brown told her that he had recently received a series of threatening telephone calls from Ameen Lawson, who had been dating Brown’s sister, Naimah Freeman. After the couple broke up, Brown and Freeman had fought with Ameen Lawson over some belongings.

According to Kuchinksy’s notes, Brown said that he heard a knock on the door just before the shooting. He asked who it was, but nobody answered. Brown said he looked through the peephole and saw Ameen Lawson and his brother, 27-year-old Tyree Lawson. He said a shot came through the door as he turned around, and he heard at least two shots.

According to Kuchinksy’s notes, which Brown initialed, Brown said he did not see either man holding a gun but that he had seen Tyree Lawson with a weapon two days earlier.

Freeman was also interviewed by the police. She said that she did not see either Tyree Lawson or his brother outside the house at the time shots were fired.

Police issued an arrest warrant for Tyree Lawson on July 19, 2006 and arrested him nearly two years later, on April 17, 2008, charging him with attempted murder, aggravated assault, conspiracy to commit murder, and two weapons charges.

In the months after Lawson’s arrest, prosecutors with the Philadelphia County District Attorney’s Office asked for several continuances in the case because Brown refused to testify at a preliminary hearing.

At a hearing on June 25, 2008, Brown again failed to appear. Prosecutors now called Freeman as a witness. She testified that she had been in a downstairs bedroom of the house and saw Tyree Lawson shoot Brown.

Lawson had an alibi for the night. He said he was about seven miles away, taking care of his sister, Squanetta Lawson, who had brain cancer. Squanetta was in the courtroom and confronted Freeman after her testimony.

The judge then ordered Squanetta to testify. She said that Freeman had told her that she would implicate Tyree Lawson unless Squanetta paid her between $5,000 and $10,000.

Prosecutors dismissed the case in October 2008, then refiled it on March 23, 2009. Lawson’s one-day bench trial took place in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas on October 9, 2009.

Brown testified and said he did not see Tyree Lawson at his house on July 11, 2006. The prosecutor confronted him with Kuchinsky’s report, and Brown denied making the statements attributed to him. The prosecutor would later say that Brown’s testimony reflected the city’s “no-snitching” culture.

Freeman testified that she saw Ameen and Tyree Lawson outside of the house that night. Tyree was holding a gun, she said. After shots were fired, Freeman testified, she and another family member chased Tyree into some nearby woods, but Lawson got into a car and drove away.

The judge convicted Lawson of attempted murder, aggravated assault, criminal conspiracy, and two counts of illegal possession of a weapon. He received a sentence of between 14 and 28 years in prison.

Lawson appealed, arguing there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction. An appellate court affirmed the conviction in 2010.

In 2013, Lawson moved for a new trial under Pennsylvania’s Post-Conviction Relief Act, claiming ineffective assistance of counsel and new evidence of innocence.

Lawson said Squanetta had reached out to police and to Lawson’s trial attorneys to support his alibi. The police didn’t contact her, the motion said, and neither did the attorneys. In addition, another person in Brown’s house at the time of the shooting, Wendell Lawson (a distant cousin to Tyree), said that Freeman had testified falsely. He said she didn’t leave the house after the shooting to give chase. Wendell Lawson would later state in an affidavit that neither he, nor Brown, nor Freeman knew the identity of the shooter. He said that police never interviewed him.

After an evidentiary hearing, a judge granted Lawson’s motion for a new trial on March 15, 2018. The state dismissed the charges on May 2, 2018. Lawson remained in prison after being convicted of unrelated crimes on June 1, 2011.

In 2022, Lawson filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit against the City of Philadelphia and the three police officers in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Lawson said Kuchinsky falsified her notes in the interview with Brown.

Each page of the report contained Brown’s signature. But the signature misspelled Brown’s first name as “Rasahn,” rather than “Rashan,” appearing to indicate that Brown never signed the document.

Separately, Lawson said that the two officers who responded to the shooting said that a witness, whom they did not name, told police that a blue SUV with a red top was seen speeding away from the shooting. “Upon information and belief, Officers Slobodian and Mostiller fabricated the evidence about the car, or else did nothing to confirm its accuracy because, if they had, they would have discovered that Mr. Lawson’s blue SUV had been totaled several months prior to July 2006 and, thus, could not have been at the crime scene.”

In November 2022, a judge in federal court ruled largely in Lawson’s favor, allowing much of his lawsuit against the city and its officers to continue.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 2/21/2023
Last Updated: 2/21/2023
Most Serious Crime:Attempted Murder
Additional Convictions:Assault, Weapon Possession or Sale, Conspiracy
Reported Crime Date:2006
Sentence:14 to 28 years
Age at the date of reported crime:27
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No