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Earl Walters

Other Queens County, New York exonerations
Earl Walters was 17 when he was arrested in Queens, New York on October 8, 1992, after he falsely confessed to two separate abductions and robberies of two women following 16 hours in custody.

More than two decades later, on August 23, 2023, following a re-investigation by the Queens County District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) and the Exoneration Initiative (EXI), Walters was exonerated by fingerprint evidence showing that other men were responsible for the crimes.

The re-investigation and fingerprint comparison were prompted by a request in 2020 from attorneys Glenn Garber and Rebecca Freedman at EXI, a New York city-based nonprofit that investigates wrongful convictions.

For Walters, the dismissal of his case in Queens County Supreme Court was a vindication of his claim that his confession was coerced and constructed by detectives. He had served more than 20 years in prison before he had been released on parole on April 1, 2013.

The first crime occurred on September 2, 1992, when two Black men abducted a 28-year-old white woman as she parked a friend’s car in the 1400 block of 55th Street in Borough Park, Brooklyn. The men pistol-whipped her, threw her into the back seat of the car and drove to Queens where they withdrew $1,900 from an ATM using her bank card.

She told police that the men released her in Queens about 1:40 a.m. She flagged down a police car and was taken to Jamaica Hospital where she was treated for neck and head injuries that required five stitches. The car, a Volkswagen Golf, was not recovered until months later. By then it had been stripped, and no forensic evidence remained.

Three weeks later, on September 24, 1992, a 58-year-old white woman had parked her maroon Renault near her apartment on 35th Avenue in Flushing, Queens, when two Black men in a small gray car pulled up. The passenger got out and pushed the woman back into her car, punched her in the face, and repeatedly slammed her head into the steering wheel. The woman was then shoved over the front seat into the back seat and the man climbed over, pushed her to the floor, and put a gun to her head. The man said, “Get the blanket,” and the woman was then covered with a blanket by the other assailant.

The man in the back seat told her that he would kill her unless she provided her ATM card and PIN number and bank information. The woman directed them to a location on Northern Boulevard. As the car drove off, the man in the back seat ripped off her stockings and underwear and sexually assaulted her.

The car stopped, the driver got out and returned about 15 minutes later, complaining there was only $240 in the account. The men discussed whether to kill her and drove off. At one point, the car stopped, and the woman heard the driver address some women on the street, asking if they wanted to party. There was back and forth conversation which the woman had a hard time understanding because of the men’s Jamaican accents. Based on the conversation, she believed they were in Brooklyn.

One of the men said, “Let’s go to the railroad.” They drove for about 10 minutes, then stopped. They put a rope around the woman's neck and dragged her from the car. They forced her to walk to a cyclone fence next to the tracks. One took her feet, the other grabbed her under the arms, and they tossed her over the fence. They then urinated on her as she lay prone on the ground.

After they left, the woman made her way to a bodega and called 9 11. She was taken to Long Island Jewish Hospital where she was treated for her injuries, and a rape kit was taken. She said the men were in their 20’s.

Meanwhile, at 2:47 a.m., police found the car the men had left behind when they abducted the woman and left in her Renault. The car, a gray four-door Mazda, was double-parked, and the engine was running. The ignition had been punched. The car had been stolen from Nassau County sometime after 6 p.m. on September 23.

Walters emerged as a suspect in the two crimes during an investigation of an unrelated case—the September 21, 1992 murder of Leopold Greaves, brother to the deputy prime minister of Barbados. Greaves had been sitting in his car at the Parsons Boulevard subway station in Queens at about 11 p.m. when two men, one carrying a MAC-11 submachine gun, forced Greaves into the trunk and drove around for hours before reaching a wooded area in Brooklyn’s Highland Park area where they robbed him and shot him to death.

A few days later, Greaves’s body was found. Police developed two suspects, Dean Black and Craig Jackson. On September 30, 1992, Black confessed to taking part in the murder and implicated Jackson, who knew Walters. While Black was being interrogated, he said that he learned about the September 24 abduction on the television news hours after the abduction occurred. Black said Jackson was driving a car that matched the one described in the news. Black said Jackson showed him more than $2,000 in cash and said that he and another friend were responsible. Jackson was arrested.

Black was placed in lineups viewed for the September 2 and 24 attacks. The woman from the September 2 incident first identified Black as the driver, but then hesitated and indicated it could be one of the fillers. The woman from the September 24 attack did not identify anyone.

On October 2, the New York Police Latent Print Unit (LPU) reported Walters was the source of a thumbprint recovered from the rear passenger door of Greaves’s car, which had been recovered.

On October 7, 1992, at 9:30 a.m., police brought Walters to the police station. That afternoon, he signed a five-page statement saying that he rode with Black, Jackson, and a third man, Donovan Scotchman (whose prints were also found on Greaves’s car), to the murder scene, but did not participate in the murder. Walters’s statement quoted Jackson as saying they had to kill Greaves because he had seen their faces. Years later, during the CIU investigation, Walters repudiated that statement, saying he did not actually accompany them, but rather, he spoke to Jackson and Black afterward when they arrived at Black’s home. Walters was not charged or ever used as a witness. Years later, during the CIU re-investigation, Walters stated that he was coerced by police to say that he was present and witnessed the homicide. He also explained that he may have touched the car when it was shown to him by Black and Jackson, however he never actually got into the car.

Police also showed a photographic array containing Walters’s photograph to the victim from the September 2 abduction. She picked out the photo of Walters and said it looked like the man in the back seat, but she wanted to see him in person to be sure. Detectives showed the September 24 victim photographic lineups, one containing Walters, the other containing Jackson. She did not make an identification.

After Walters gave his statement in the Greaves murder, Detective Vito Navarra began interrogating him about the abductions. Navarra told Walters that the victim in the September 2 attack had identified him. Navarra said he was also investigating a similar abduction on September 24. For the first few hours, Walters denied involvement but said he had heard that Black was involved. Navarra falsely told Walters that Black had told “all about it.”

On several occasions, Navarra left the interrogation room to visit locations that he said Walters had mentioned during the questioning. Navarra would later say, “I couldn’t find the locations that he was describing.”

Ultimately, Navarra created two written statements and gave them to Walters, who signed them. The detective then took Walters out of the station and drove him to various banks and to a spot where Walters allegedly said papers had been tossed from one of the cars. Although a bag of papers was recovered, it was not connected to either crime.

At midnight, about 16 hours after he arrived at the station, Walters was told by Navarro to work off of the statements he had written and rewrite a statement in his own handwriting and words. At 2 a.m. on October 8, 1992, an assistant district attorney from the Queens County District Attorney’s office arrived. As instructed by Navarro, Walters gave a similar statement that was videotaped. However the video statement contained numerous assertions by Walters that were at odds with the victims’ statements and other objective evidence in the case.

Walters was arraigned later that day, ordered held without bail, and on October 29, 1992, he was indicted on charges of first-degree robbery, two counts of second-degree robbery, first-degree sexual abuse, second-degree aggravated sexual abuse, two counts of second-degree assault, first-degree unauthorized use of a vehicle, and first-degree kidnapping.

On November 24, 1992, Walters stood in a lineup. The victim in the September 2 crime first identified a filler in position #4. She then retracted that selection and picked the filler in position #6. The lineup procedure was halted. The victim spoke to the detective about the skin tone of the man who was in position #5 and was told it did not matter. The woman then spoke separately by telephone with an assistant district attorney. The victim then went back to the lineup and picked Walters, who was in position #5.

After Walters was charged and in custody, unable to make bail, there were three more similar gunpoint carjackings involving sexual abuse of female victims. In two of the three crimes, the abductors brought the victims to ATM machines to make withdrawals.

On October 11, 1992, two Black men wearing masks approached a husband and wife from behind as they were about to get out of their car on Hoover Avenue in Briarwood, Queens. The husband was ordered into the front passenger seat, and his wife into the back seat with one of the carjackers. They drove to a bank and parked. The driver and the husband got out and went to withdraw cash. The man in the back seat then began sexually molesting the woman, threatening to kill her if she made a sound.

The husband and the other carjacker returned, and they drove back to where they had first abducted the couple. They took the husband’s house and car keys, then drove off in the car they had driven up in at the beginning. The couple said the two men spoke in Jamaican accents and were in their mid-20s.

Three days later, on October 14, 1992, three Black men holding guns approached a woman and her boyfriend in Cunningham Park, Queens. They forced the couple into the back seat with one of the carjackers between them. The two other men got into the front seat. The carjacker in the back took the man’s wallet and the woman’s necklace, then ordered the woman to disrobe as he began fondling her breasts. The carjacker then struck her with his arm and hit her in the head with his gun. The carjackers then ordered the couple out of the car and fled in their car. The carjackers were described as Black men in their early 20s.

On October 19, 1992, three Black men forced a 57-year-old woman back into her car in Bayside, Queens. They forced her onto the rear floor and drove to an ATM at the Hong Kong Bank in Flushing. They were unable to get money because the instructions were in Chinese. They drove off, beating her with a pipe, ripping off her pants, and penetrating her with a key. They stopped at a schoolyard driveway and, while attempting to push her into the trunk, she screamed. They hit her in the head several times with a gun and fled.

A bystander who heard the woman scream and saw the three men run to a car, wrote down the car’s license plate. The car was registered to an address in Hempstead, Long Island. One of the residents was 19-year-old Kraigory Odom. On October 21, the LPU reported that Odom’s fingerprints had been found on the Bayside victim’s car. Odom was arrested and he subsequently implicated Jermaine Williams and Robert Masters. Williams and Masters were arrested.

Ultimately, Odom and Williams pled guilty to the Bayside crime and were sentenced to prison. In 1994, Masters pled guilty to the October 14 Cunningham Park crime and the Bayside crime.

In June 1993, a hearing began on Walters's motion to suppress his video statement. During the hearing, the prosecution said it did not intend to introduce any identification testimony. Walters testified that his confessions were false and that all the details had been provided by Detective Navarra. Walters said he believed he would be released after making his statement. He said Navarra told him “if you cooperate and do what you could do, you can go home.”

Navarra said that Walters began asking Navarra for information. “He was trying to get [information] from me,” Navarra said. Asked if he told Walters what he knew, Navarra replied, “No.”

The motion was denied. “I’m convinced that nobody used a rubber hose and that his Miranda rights were given,” the judge said. The ruling noted that the prosecution had taken the position that the woman who was abducted from Borough Park on September 2 was unable to make an identification.

On January 6, 1994, Walters went to trial in Queens County Supreme Court. During the defense opening statement, Walters’s attorney brought up the unusual identification proceedings involving the September 2 crime victim, who had identified two fillers before talking separately to a detective and a prosecutor before finally identifying Walters.

Based on that argument, the judge ruled that the prosecution could call detectives involved in the lineup to rebut the suggestion that misconduct occurred. And the September 2 victim testified how she identified Walters after first identifying two fillers.

The 58-year-old Flushing victim testified about the circumstances of her abduction, robbery, and sexual assault. She did not identify Walters.

The prosecution presented evidence that fingerprints had been recovered from the Mazda left behind with the engine running following the September 24 abduction, but Walters had been excluded.

The centerpiece of the prosecution was the videotaped confession.

On March 22, 1994, the jury convicted Walters of first-degree robbery, two counts of second-degree robbery, second-degree assault, and kidnapping. He was sentenced to a combined 17½ to 40 years in prison.

His conviction was upheld on appeal, and on April 1, 2013, Walters was released on parole.

In 2020, the CIU began reinvestigating at the request of the Exoneration Initiative, which specifically requested that fingerprints associated with the September 2 and September 24 crimes be compared through the Automated Biometric Identification System and directly compared to the fingerprints of Masters, Odom, and Williams. The LPU determined that the latent prints from the September 24 crime matched the prints of Masters and Williams.

On August 24, 2023, the CIU and the defense filed a joint motion to vacate Walters’s convictions. The motion said: “Considering the pattern of similar crimes committed over the course of two months, the newly-discovered fingerprint evidence was sufficient to seek to vacate the convictions."

“Had this newly-discovered evidence been received at trial, it would probably have resulted in a trial verdict more favorable to Walters,” the motion said.

Queens County Supreme Court Justice Michelle Johnson granted the motion and vacated the convictions. Justice Johnson noted, “As I sit here, I’m really, honestly baffled,” she said, referring to “glaring red flags” that detectives had ignored—the other similar carjackings and abductions. “The 1994 district attorney’s office failed to honor its obligation, to honor its search for the truth, no matter where it leads,” Justice Johnson said. She also said that the “carelessness and indifference” by detectives “shocks the conscience.”

The prosecution then dismissed the charges.

Walters filed a claim for state compensation in October 2023.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 9/5/2023
Last Updated: 3/30/2024
State:New York
Most Serious Crime:Kidnapping
Additional Convictions:Robbery, Assault
Reported Crime Date:1992
Sentence:17 1/2 to 40
Age at the date of reported crime:17
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No