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Barry Kamara

Other Suffolk County, Massachusetts exonerations
On the evening of May 16, 1991, 19-year-old Ronald Taylor, accompanied by two friends, Corey Harris and Claude McClinton, walked on Dakota Street to a bus stop in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. He was on his way to a night school class, and intended to meet a friend, Tiara Walden, there before getting on the bus.

At the bus stop, however, a gunman approached and fired several shots. Taylor died of a bullet wound to the chest.

Walden told police that she was carrying a baby when a person walked past her on the sidewalk, looking briefly over his right shoulder. She said she saw the right side of his face for 1 to 1.5 seconds. She said he was 5’9” to 5’10” tall and wearing a red Champion brand sweatshirt, black jeans, black sneakers and a black baseball hat. She did not recall any lettering on the hat, which she said was pulled down to his eyebrows as if to hide his face. She said she heard gunshots about three minutes later, but did not see the shooting.

The red Champion sweatshirt was common garb for youths at that time. It was considered the dominant sweatshirt in the market.

Harris said that as he, Taylor, and McClinton walked on Dakota Street toward the bus stop on Geneva Street, a person wearing a red Champion sweatshirt, black pants, and a plain black hat walked up to them. Harris said the gunman was about 10 feet away when he began shooting. Harris, who was 5’6” tall, said the gunman was about 5’8” tall, about 150 pounds, dark-skinned with a heavy or muscular build. Harris said he ran up to Taylor after the shooting and asked him if he knew the gunman. Taylor said he did not, Harris said.

McClinton gave a similar description, though he said the gunman was three to four feet away when the shots were fired.

Angela Larkins, who lived on Dakota Street, told police she was inside her home when she heard gunshots. She looked out and saw the gunman. She described him as 5’3” tall, wearing a red sweatshirt and a black wool hat. She said she did not get a good look at the gun before he fled.

Walden looked at a book of photographs at the police station, but did not identify anyone. She did say that one photo, of G.G., “looked like” the person who walked past her. She said her confidence level was “eight or nine.”

Several days later, the police showed Walden an additional seven or eight photographs. She again picked G.G. as well as a photograph of 17-year-old Barry Kamara. Kamara was the only person in the lineup wearing a Champion sweatshirt, although it was blue.

Days later, Walden viewed another photographic array. She again picked out Kamara and G.G. She said G.G. looked “like the guy, but it’s not him.” After picking Kamara’s photo, Walden asked the officer whether he was “darker than this.” At trial, a police officer claimed that Walden said, “This is him, but darker. His [the gunman’s] complexion is darker than that.”

McClinton viewed some photos a few days after the shooting. Kamara was not among them, and McClinton did not identify anyone. The police later showed him a photographic lineup that included Kamara, and McClinton identified him as the gunman. Again, Kamara was the only person in the lineup wearing a Champion sweatshirt.

Harris and Larkins were shown photographic lineups that included Kamara, but neither identified anyone as the gunman. Larkins said one photograph, that of K.D., “looked like” the gunman.

On May 24, 1991, Kamara was arrested and charged with first-degree murder and illegal possession of a firearm. Police went to Kamara’s home with a search warrant. They retrieved several articles of clothing, including a red Champion sweatshirt and black sneakers, though Kamara’s sneakers were black and white. Testing of the clothing was negative for gunshot residue.

Kamara had been born in the west African county of Sierra Leone and came with his father and stepmother (who was an American citizen) to the United States when he was 11 years old. A few years later, his father and stepmother divorced. As a result, his father took on additional work, and Kamara spent more time on the street. He had been written up by police, though not charged, for loitering and trespassing.

In January 1992, when Kamara went to trial in Suffolk County Superior Court, the prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney James Larkin, repeatedly attempted to portray Kamara as a member of a gang, despite being ordered to refrain from doing so by the trial judge, Robert A. Mulligan Jr. Defense attorney Marc Kantrowitz objected numerous times, the objections were sustained, and the jury was instructed to disregard the questions and answers.

Larkin’s efforts began during his opening statement when he said that Taylor did not want to meet his friends near his house because he was afraid of the local gang, the Vamp Hill Kings. And he said that Walden recognized Kamara from “the area where the Vamp Hill Kings hang out.” The defense objection was sustained.

Prior to the trial, Larkin had assured Judge Mulligan he would only ask Taylor’s mother, Cora, what time he left the house, what he was wearing, and who he was with on the day of the shooting. But then in response to another question, Cora testified that her son had had problems with gang members in the area. The defense objection was sustained.

When Walden got on the witness stand, she said she and Taylor had planned to meet just before Dakota Street. Larkin asked her why and before she could answer, a defense objection was sustained. At a sidebar, outside of the jury’s earshot, Larkin said that Walden would testify that Taylor “was afraid of the gang that hung on the corner.” The defense objection stood.

Larkin’s next question was: “Did you first propose meeting Ronnie someplace different?” Another defense objection was sustained. Five questions later, Larkin asked Walden: “Could you tell them why you wanted to meet up at that area?” Another objection was sustained.

Walden identified Kamara as the person who walked by her just moments before hearing the gunshots. She admitted she saw him less than two seconds and only from the side when he turned his head toward her after he had passed. She saw the right side of his face, although at a preliminary hearing she had said she didn’t know what side of his face she saw.

Walden said the baseball cap taken from Kamara’s home was similar to the one the gunman wore, even though she had said right after the shooting that it was plain, and the one from Kamara’s home had the word: “RAIDERS” across the front. When shown Kamara’s sneakers, she did not recognize them as the ones worn by the shooter.

Harris testified and was unable to identify Kamara as the gunman. Larkin repeatedly attempted to elicit testimony about gangs. Harris did testify that he was familiar with a gang that hung out near the bus stop. Asked by the prosecutor if he was afraid to testify, Harris replied, “No.”

McClinton identified Kamara as the gunman. Under questioning by Larkin, McClinton said he recognized Kamara because he and Taylor had seen him on a bus in March or April before the shooting. He said he had looked at Kamara and didn’t pay much attention. “Then we got off the bus, that’s when [Taylor] told me he was a member of the Kings.” A defense objection was sustained, and the judge ordered the testimony stricken.

Larkin continued, asking several questions about whether McClinton ever had problems with “those boys” who hung out on the corner of Geneva Avenue where the bus stop was located. Another defense objection was sustained.

McClinton gave conflicting testimony. At the preliminary hearing, he had said Kamara had the gun out in his hand when McClinton first saw him. At the trial, asked if he could see the gun when he first saw the gunman, McClinton said, “No, not at first.”

Walden, Harris, and McClinton had all described the shooter as about 5’8” tall. Detective Daniel Flynn, who orchestrated the photographic lineups, testified that after the lineups, McClinton said the gunman was 5’6” tall. Kamara, it was noted, was about 5’5” tall.

During Flynn’s testimony, Larkin asked him for the content of the message broadcast on police radios. After giving the clothing and physical description, Flynn added, “and believed to be a member of the King gang.” The judge ordered the testimony stricken.

Flynn testified that Taylor had been wounded in a shooting three months before he was killed. Flynn said that an individual named Eric Brown, who drove a gray 1979 Dodge Colt, was the shooter in that incident. He admitted that police had made no attempt to speak to Brown or the eyewitness who had named Eric as the gunman in the prior shooting.

The prosecution presented evidence that K.D. and G.G, both of whom had variously been picked out by the witnesses, were both incarcerated at the time of the crime.

The defense presented testimony from James Karolides, a private investigator, who had interviewed the witnesses. Karolides said that the witnesses had given differing descriptions or denied saying what Detective Flynn claimed they had said. He said McClinton, when shown photographs, picked a photo of K.D. (as had Angela Larkins) as the gunman.

Karolides said Walden told him she could not positively identify the shooter.

Karolides testified that Brown, the suspect in the earlier wounding of Taylor, lived near Dakota Street in an area that was in the direction that the witnesses said the gunman fled after killing Taylor. The defense noted that in the backyard of Brown’s residence was a car painted with gray primer. A photograph of the car was admitted into evidence.

Prosecutor Larkin continued his theme of attempting to introduce a gang connection during his cross-examination of Karolides. Defense objections were sustained to numerous questions.

An appeals court would later note that every civilian witness “had given inconsistent or somewhat vague descriptions of the assailant’s height, clothing or complexion. Several had initially failed to pick the defendant out from a photographic array.”

Judge Mulligan specifically ordered that the words “gang” and “group’ could not be mentioned during closing arguments. The jury retired to deliberate, and the following morning the jury foreman reported a problem.

During deliberation, one of the jurors had done what the prosecution had tried to do — connect Kamara to a gang. The foreman said that juror B.S. told the jurors that she knew Kamara and that she knew Eric Brown – the person the defense contended had shot Taylor in February — three months before Taylor was killed. B.S. said that Brown dated her niece; that she thought Kamara was a gang member, and that she was afraid to walk the street.

The judge questioned B.S., and she denied saying Kamara was a gang member. She claimed Kamara was a friend of Eric Brown. She said she told the jurors that “there’s a bad area and like kids do hang out on corners and things, and some of them hang out there.”

During a sidebar conference with the lawyers, the judge said, “I think this case is over. I don’t think there is anything I can do to save this case, frankly.” Defense attorney Kantrowitz requested a mistrial. The judge denied that motion and instead conducted individual interviews with all of the jurors. The jurors had different recollections. Some remembered that B.S. said Kamara “did it.” Others remembered that B.S. said Kamara was a gang member and knew Brown. The defense, after this questioning, again requested a mistrial. That was denied.

Judge Mulligan removed B.S. from the jury, moved an alternate onto the jury, instructed the jurors to ignore what B.S. had said, and told them to keep deliberating. A defense request that the jury be instructed that there was no connection between Kamara and Brown was denied.

The jury deliberated all day and did not reach a verdict. At 6 p.m. the following day, January 21, 1992, the jury convicted Kamara of second-degree murder and illegal possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 15 years.

In 1994, the Massachusetts Appeals Court vacated the conviction and ordered a new trial. The court said, “We are convinced that the juror's remarks -- particularly those concerning the defendant's possible gang membership -- poisoned the jury's deliberations. The judge had been at some pains to preclude the Commonwealth during its closing from mentioning the words "gang" or "group" and had specifically instructed the jurors to disregard and purge from their minds any reference to gangs or to the defendant's possible affiliations with gangs.”

The Appeals Court noted that the defense had attempted to exclude all references to gangs or groups. “Over repeated (and sustained) objections the assistant district attorney continued his efforts to develop the theme,” the court said. “Hence, a seed – albeit small – may have already been planted in some jurors’ minds, in spite of the judge’s admonitions, that this crime was gang-connected. Without doubt, that seed was watered and fertilized by information…that the juror improperly related to her fellow jurors.”

The prosecution appealed. In 1996, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reinstated the conviction. The court ruled that the judge had individually questioned all of the other jurors, and when they said they would not be influenced by B.S., any possible taint had been cured. The court said that Prosecutor Larkin’s attempts to introduce “irrelevant evidence, while artless, did not amount to misconduct.”

Kamara filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus. That was denied.

On March 30, 2008, Kamara was released on parole, even though he maintained he was innocent. He was paroled to an immigration detainer since he was born in Sierra Leone. While Kamara was in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), attorney Soraya Sadeghi began representing him. Kamara had been ordered deported to Sierra Leone, but the government of Sierra Leone declined to accept his deportation.

In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Zadvydas v. Davis, ruled that if someone is detained for more than six months past a deportation order, they may petition the federal court for release. In 2009, Sadeghi filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus on that basis. The prosecution did not resist, the writ was granted, and on May 4, 2009, Kamara was released from ICE custody. He was required to wear an ankle monitor and check in with a parole officer monthly.

In August 2010, based on Kamara’s exemplary behavior, the ankle bracelet was removed, and the frequency of his parole checks was reduced. Eventually, Kamara became the manager of Rim Shine, a company connected to a Lexus car dealership. Kamara also handled all of the finances for a separate business owned by a lifelong friend.

Over the years, Kamara’s trial defense attorney, Marc Kantrowitz, had remained in touch with him, even after Kantrowitz became a Massachusetts Appeals Court justice. As Kantrowitz later said in an affidavit, “As a judge, I could do little.” He went so far as to seek guidance from the Massachusetts Commission on Judicial Conduct which confirmed his limitation.

In early 2021, Sadeghi became aware of Robert Foxworth’s exoneration based on media reports. She reached out to Kantrowitz, who had retired in 2015. Following a conversation, they contacted Lisa Kavanaugh at the Committee for Public Counsel Services Innocence Program. Kavanaugh then contacted attorney Amy Belger, a post-conviction and appellate attorney, who agreed to take on Kamara’s case.

Belger had been part of the legal team which represented Foxworth in the successful challenge to his murder conviction, which occurred on March 31, 1992, just months after Kamara was convicted. Belger’s post-conviction investigation revealed striking similarities between the two cases. In Kamara’s case, as well as in Foxworth’s case, Larkin was the trial prosecutor, and Flynn was the lead detective. Foxworth’s conviction had been vacated, and the case was dismissed in January 2021 following an investigation by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office Integrity Review Bureau (IRB). At the time, the IRB – then headed by Assistant District Attorney David Lewis – supported the dismissal of Foxworth’s case.

In July 2021, on behalf of Kamara, Belger reached out to Lewis, and subsequently the prosecution’s trial files and the Boston police files on Kamara’s case were turned over. Belger determined that there was considerable exculpatory evidence that had not been disclosed to Kantrowitz at the time of Kamara’s trial. This evidence included:

--Taylor’s mother told Detective Flynn three days after the murder that she had heard that a person named Bernard King had killed her son, prompting Flynn to retrieve King’s photo and background information.

--Information that a teenager named Terrance Bradshaw had been stabbed a couple of weeks after Taylor was murdered. Bradshaw survived and said that he was stabbed after getting into an argument with two other teenagers named Nelson Joseph and James Jones over the Taylor’s murder. Bradshaw had indicated to police that someone known as “BK” had shot Taylor—possibly Bernard King. The defense had sought to call Jones and another youth named Sly Brantley as a witness during a pretrial hearing to testify that a different detective, James Doyle, had told both Jones and Brantley, on different occasions, that the police knew that Kamara did not commit the murder. During the 2021 post-conviction investigation, Jones gave a sworn affidavit confirming what Doyle had said. Brantley, by that time, was dead.

--A report that McClinton was stabbed in October 1990 and the suspect was James Jones—the same James Jones who, in his post-conviction affidavit, also said police believed the gunman who killed Taylor was someone he knew. At the time of the killing, this person was a known member of the Vamp Hill Kings. Police were unable, however, to put a case together against that person for lack of witnesses who were willing to testify. According to Jones’s post-conviction affidavit, police were content to allow Kamara to be convicted of the murder, despite the lack of evidence of his guilt, in order to close the case.

In October 2021, Belger filed a motion to set aside and dismiss Kamara’s convictions based on the withheld evidence, citing the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brady v. Maryland, which requires the prosecution to disclose exculpatory evidence.

In the motion, Belger noted that while Kamara was in prison, the person who Jones said was the gunman had, unsolicited, deposited money in Kamara’s commissary account. At times, this person had sent cryptic messages to Kamara saying, in one, that he had talked to his lawyer “about me and you,” and saying in another that he felt “bad and ain’t going into details about how shit went down.”

That person, the motion noted, served 10 years in prison for a murder in Brockton, Massachusetts in 2002 or 2003. Kantrowitz had specifically asked the prosecution prior to Kamara’s trial for information about that person, but nothing was turned over, the motion said.

The motion also said that in 2012, Corey Harris had signed an affidavit saying that when he went to prison, he saw Kamara and realized that Kamara was much shorter than the gunman who killed Taylor.

In November 2021, Belger made a presentation to Lewis, arguing for Kamara’s exoneration. She was joined by Kantrowitz, as well as his co-counsel at Kamara’s trial, Timothy McGuire, who had gone on to be deputy counsel to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

The IRB then began re-investigating the case, a process that took several months. In November 2022, Lewis filed a response, assenting to the defense motion to vacate and dismiss the case. “It is the Commonwealth’s conclusion that it failed to disclose significant Brady materials and that Kamara was prejudiced by this non-disclosure,” the response declared.

“The non-disclosure of these materials is especially troubling because of the very weak identification evidence used to convict the defendant, the prosecution’s repeated, improper injection of unsupported gang evidence into the trial despite the trial judge’s clear orders prohibiting its admission, and a sitting juror’s improper injection of extraneous information about the defendant’s alleged affiliation with a gang during deliberations that resulted in the juror being removed from the jury – albeit after the information had been shared with {and heard by) multiple members of the jury who ultimately deliberated on the case,” Lewis said in the response. “[T]he Commonwealth concludes that the defendant was wrongfully convicted.”

On March 21, 2023, Belger, accompanied by Kamara, and Lewis appeared before Judge James Lang. Lewis said that the prosecution did not oppose the motion for a new trial and said that when the conviction was vacated, the case would be dismissed.

On March 22, Judge Lang issued a seven-page ruling granting the motion for a new trial. Lewis then filed a motion to dismiss the case, which was granted.

Kamara filed a claim for state compensation in April 2023.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 3/30/2023
Last Updated: 9/29/2023
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Weapon Possession or Sale
Reported Crime Date:1991
Age at the date of reported crime:17
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No