Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Jamaka Cottingham

Other Harris County, Texas exonerations with official misconduct
Between 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. on January 13, 1997, 39-year-old construction worker Kenneth Brown stopped at a convenience store in Houston, Texas to make a call on a pay telephone. While he was on the phone, a black Pontiac pulled up. A man got out of the passenger seat holding a silver handgun and put the gun to Brown’s head. The man told Brown not to move, took the phone from Brown, and hung it up. He told Brown to hand over his money or be killed.

A second man then emerged from the Pontiac. This man, who also held a handgun and was wearing a blue sweatshirt, pointed his gun at Brown’s head. Brown handed over $8 to $10 and when the first man said he was going to kill Brown anyway, Brown ran. As he fled, he noted the license plate of the Pontiac.

Brown went home and called the Houston police and reported the crime. Police learned that the license plate number belonged to a black Pontiac that had been reported stolen on January 12, 1997, the day before Brown was robbed. Shortly after midnight on January 16, 1997, the Pontiac was found wrecked and abandoned, with the engine running, in a public housing project in Houston.

Police lifted fingerprints from the car.

On the afternoon of February 13, 1997, Brown was driving about a mile and a half from where he was robbed when he saw 17-year-old Jamaka Cottingham riding a bicycle. Cottingham was wearing a sweatshirt that Brown thought looked similar to the one worn by the second robber. Brown later said he and Cottingham made eye contact and Cottingham looked “stunned and surprised.”

Brown hailed a police officer and together they drove around the area until they saw Cottingham, who was arrested based on Brown’s identification.

On May 8, 1997, Cottingham, who was prosecuted under the name Jamamka Cottingham, was convicted of first-degree aggravated robbery based solely on the testimony of Brown. During the trial, Brown told the jury that he was “positive, 300 percent positive” that Cottingham was the second robber. Cottingham’s 23-year-old sister testified that she was at home from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. on the day of the crime and that Cottingham was at home from 6:30 10:30 p.m.

Cottingham was sentenced to 30 years in prison. His conviction was affirmed by the Texas Fourteenth Court of Appeals in September 1999.

In 2012, Cottingham was released on parole and filed a state law petition for a writ of habeas corpus based on a public records request that turned up a report showing that prior to Cottingham’s trial, a fingerprint on the Pontiac had been compared to Cottingham. A fingerprint analyst said the print was not Cottingham’s. This report had not been disclosed to the prosecution or the defense.

In addition, in 2000, three years after Cottingham was convicted, the print on the Pontiac had been identified as that of the left middle fingerprint of Marty Duran. This report also had not been disclosed to the prosecution or the defense in Cottingham’s case.

By that time, Duran had pled guilty to murder and had been sentenced to life in prison. He was later described as being engaged in a “non-stop violent crime spree” at the time Brown was robbed.

In the petition for a writ of habeas corpus, Duran was described as having a “propensity for committing armed robberies—in particular, car-jackings.”

Ultimately, Duran admitted during a prison interview with Cottingham’s attorney that he had stolen the Pontiac and was using it to commit robberies until it was wrecked. He denied knowing Cottingham and said Cottingham was not involved in the robbery of Brown. He said his companions were men he knew only as “Ray-Ray” and “Warrick.”

Subsequently, the Harris County District Attorney’s office began an investigation of Cottingham’s claim of innocence. An investigator in the District Attorney’s office contacted Daniel Briseno, an internal investigator in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to set up an interview with Duran.

After the interview, Briseno escorted Duran out. Briseno subsequently told the investigator that when he asked Duran what was going on, Duran replied that “he was being fingerprinted to help out Jamaica [sic] Cunningham.” Briseno then executed an affidavit saying that “Offender Duran stated his time was over and that he was just trying to help someone out…Offender Duran stated that the named person was not the gunman but he was there.”

The affidavit was problematic because it was dated the day before Duran was interviewed. After a lengthy investigation, Briseno admitted that his sworn statement was not accurate, that Duran may have lied to Briseno about trying to help out Cottingham. Subsequently, during an evidentiary hearing, Duran was asked if he had previously said that Cottingham was not involved in the crime. Duran invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to testify.

Cottingham’s attorney objected that Duran had no such right to remain silent because the statute of limitations on the crime had expired years earlier in 2000. The prosecution refused a defense request to immunize Duran. Cottingham’s attorney argued that had Duran really known Cottingham, he would not have referred to him as “Jamaica Cunningham.”

The defense then made an offer of proof that Duran, if compelled to testify, would have said he was in the Pontiac with Brisby Brown and Warrick Ray, that he did not know Cottingham in 1997, and that Cottingham did not take part in the robbery of Brown.

During the prosecution’s reinvestigation of the case, records were found showing that there were other fingerprints from the Pontiac that had not been analyzed. The Houston police crime laboratory concluded that one of the previously unexamined prints, found on the passenger side window, was that of Brisby Brown, who was also known as “Ray-Ray.” The laboratory confirmed that Duran’s prints were found in two places on the car and that none of the prints belonged to Cottingham.

An attorney for Cottingham interviewed prison inmate Kenneth “Pig” Hadnot, who said that at the time of the robbery of Brown, he was in prison after being convicted of numerous robberies and other crimes. Hadnot said that he told Duran to rob Brown because Hadnot and Brown had a disagreement over money that Brown owed Hadnot. Hadnot said he did not know Cottingham and that he was certain that Cottingham was not involved in the robbery of Brown.

In May 2022, following a hearing, Harris County District Judge Stacy Allen recommended that the writ be granted. The prosecution joined with Cottingham’s defense attorney Josh Schaffer in urging that the writ be granted.

On June 21, 2023, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted the writ. The court vacated Cottingham’s conviction and ordered a new trial. On July 20, 2023, the prosecution dismissed the case.

– Maurice Possley

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date: 8/2/2023
Last Updated: 8/7/2023
Most Serious Crime:Robbery
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1997
Sentence:30 years
Age at the date of reported crime:17
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No