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Tyrone Smith

Other Cook County, Illinois homicide exonerations
In the early morning hours of October 25, 2015, 39-year-old Tyrone “Ty” Smith was fatally shot in a parking lot of MB National Bank across the street from the N’Zuri Nightclub, also known as the Old Secrets Club, in Dolton, Illinois.

Accounts from witnesses, many of whom were heavily intoxicated, were less than clear. The shooting came after a minor fender-bender car accident in the lot. However, some witnesses said there was a fight in another part of the parking lot at about the same time.

Police would later say they interviewed upwards of 50 people. Among them was 41-year-old Kenya Dennis, who said that her girlfriend, Salitha Deberry, drove them to the club after 11 p.m. Deberry parked her truck in the bank parking lot. Dennis said she met two men at the club who claimed to be twins who wore their hair pulled back in braids or dreadlocks. Dennis said one called himself “Twin,” and was named “Calvin or Kevin.” She would ultimately identify photos of the men, one of whom had very short hair and the other had “pulled back dreads.” The individual with the “pulled back dreads” in the photos was named Kalvin Ware, according to his driver’s license.

Dennis said she and her friend left the club along with numerous club-goers who were walking to the parking area where Deberry’s truck was parked. Dennis said she walked past an ATM in the bank parking lot and saw the person who called himself “Twin” standing in the general vicinity where the ATM was located. She said she and Deberry were sitting in the truck trying to figure out where to go to get some food when a commotion broke out to the left of them. Dennis said she noticed people gathered, a “car went forward and back,” and then it appeared as if there was a disagreement and people yelling. Dennis noticed some people from the ATM head to the commotion.

She said that she and Deberry then left. In her first interview with detectives the day of the shooting, Dennis described the shooter as someone with dreads. She did not describe the shooter’s clothing. She said there were a “variety of individuals” present who had dreads or braided hairstyles.

A few days later, Dennis was summoned to the Cook County State’s Attorneys’ office where she was interviewed by Assistant State’s Attorney Angela Carlisle and Dolton Police Commander Darryl Hope. During that interview, Dennis said that one of the males she saw had dreads that were pulled back, another man had a white shirt, and a third man had a fade haircut. Dennis said she saw sparks from the person that had dreads, but she did not identify that person.

In her signed statement, Dennis stated that there were about eight males in the bank parking lot just before the shooting. She stated that the male Black with the dreads was making hand gestures in the bank parking lot, but she could not see his face because his back was to her.” According to her statement, she then saw sparks and heard a gunshot. Dennis did not say that the sparks came from the man with the dreads.

Nakia Gunart told police she went to the club to celebrate Smith’s birthday. She said that when she left, she was intoxicated. She was sitting behind the wheel of her car and got into an argument with her boyfriend who was standing outside. At one point, she put the car into reverse with the door still open and backed into a Jeep which was parked behind her.

The headlights of the Jeep were on, and two women were inside. One of them got out and hit one of Gunart’s girlfriends. There was a lot of yelling. Gunart said a lot of people came over to try to calm the situation. She said she told the onlookers she had insurance to cover any damage, and then she heard three gunshots.

Umar Shaheed told police that he went to the club with friends to celebrate the birthday of Teisha, the sister of 24-year-old Tyrone Smith, who was of no relation to Ty Smith, the victim. Shaheed, who had been drinking tequila and cognac, was so drunk he had trouble walking. However, he said that he and Tyrone Smith went to the ATM so he could get some money to buy cigarettes. While they were there, he heard shouting from the parking lot, so he and Smith went to investigate. He said they saw a group of people scuffling and fighting. Among those fighting were Smith, before he was shot, and his sister, Teisha. Shaheed said he then heard shots and he left with another friend. In the video surveillance tape, Tyrone was visible and was wearing a red hoodie.

Ultimately, Tyrone Smith was indicted on a charge of the first-degree murder of Tyrone “Ty” Smith.

An arrest warrant was issued, but He was not arrested until October 5, 2017. He went to trial in Cook County Circuit Court in February 2020.

The prosecution’s case relied primarily on the testimony of Dennis and Shaheed, as well as police officers, and a surveillance video from the bank.

During her testimony to the jury, Dennis identified Smith as the gunman for the first time. She had never viewed a photographic lineup or a live lineup. The prosecution had not informed the defense prior to the trial that Dennis was going to identify Tyrone as the gunman.

She told the jury: “Basically, you know, the gentleman that ran over from the ATM had apparently got the gentleman in the area where the parking— where the rest of the bank parking lot was. And from there when we turned the curb you know we were still watching. When we came around [and] hit the corner you could see up into the bank and that’s when they were going after the gentleman. And then you could see the sparks and he, [the victim] hit the [ground].”

Although Dennis had been interviewed twice shortly after the shooting, she had never mentioned that the gunman was wearing a red hoodie. Now, Dennis testified that she had viewed the bank video and identified Smith as the gunman because he was wearing a red hoodie. She said he was the only person wearing a red hoodie that night. She also told the jury that the prosecution’s exhibit number 10, which was a photograph of Smith, was a photograph of the gunman.

The prosecutor asked, “So the boy with the dreads who shot that boy is the person you identified in People’s Exhibit Number 10?” “Yes,” Dennis said.

“And when you told the state’s attorney and the detective on October 29 that the male Black with the dreads who was making hand gestures and you saw sparks that was coming from, [was that] the boy you identified in People’s Exhibit Number 10?” “Yes,” Dennis said. She added that she had no doubt that Smith was the gunman.

Shaheed testified and identified Smith as the person wearing a red hoodie in a still photograph taken from the bank video. He said that although he heard shots, he did not remember where he was when he heard them because he was too intoxicated. Gunart testified about the fender-bender in the parking lot. She was unable to say who fired the gunshots.

Nathanial Allen testified that he and Ty left the club with other friends and walked across to the parking lot. He said that a “scuffle broke out and like somebody was hollering like they jumping Carlton,” a friend of theirs.

Allen said he, Ty, and another friend, Leonard Fletcher, ran toward where they thought Carlton was. He said he joined the fracas and at one point “took a swing at a guy [who] had a red hoodie.” Allen said the person wearing the hoodie had braids. Allen had not told the police or the prosecution prior to this testimony that the person in the hoodie had braids.

Allen said the man in the hoodie went behind Ty and then three gunshots rang out. Allen said he did not see the gunshots because he was facing in the other direction, but heard them come from behind Ty. He said they all fell to the ground.

Fletcher testified that he didn’t go into the club because he didn’t have the money for the cover charge. He said had remained in his car drinking tequila until Allen and Ty came out. He said that when he heard that Carlton was being jumped, he, Ty, and Allen went to help Carlton. Fletcher said they saw Carlton being chased by a man. Fletcher said he was tussling with the man when the shots were fired. He said he did not know where the shots came from and didn’t see anyone with a gun.

Dolton police Detective Major Coleman testified that he was in charge of the investigation of the shooting. He told the jury that after the interviews with about 50 people, the physical evidence was collected, the video was viewed, and five days after the shooting, “it was determined that there was enough evidence and information” to charge Tyrone Smith with the shooting.

Coleman said that someone had interviewed Kalvin Ware and Kevin Foster as possible alternative suspects, and subsequently Smith was identified “as the subject who was involved in a confrontation and shot the victim.” Coleman also testified that several individuals had identified Smith as the gunman, though only Dennis was called to identify him.

On February 14, 2020, the jury convicted Tyrone Smith of first-degree murder. While he was awaiting sentencing, a new legal team began representing him—Jennifer Bonjean and Ashley Cohen.

Tyrone was still awaiting sentencing in September 2021, when they filed a motion for a new trial.

The motion asserted that the prosecution had violated discovery rules by failing to notify the defense that Dennis was going to identify Smith as the gunman—five years after the shooting—and that as a result, the defense had failed to seek out an expert on eyewitness identification.

“[A]t no point prior to trial did Dennis identify anyone as the shooter, including the Defendant,” the motion said. “She did not tell the Assistant State’s Attorney that the shooter had dreads nor did she ever state that the shooter was wearing a red hoodie. In fact, Dennis did not mention that anyone was wearing a hoodie of any color at any time.”

The motion noted that there were no photographic or physical lineups conducted with Dennis “as she consistently maintained that she did not see who shot the weapon, but merely stated she saw sparks and heard gunshots from the general area where numerous people had congregated.”

The motion said the prosecution asked questions of Dennis in a manner that indicated that her identification of Smith was “not…a surprise.” The motion accused the prosecutor of knowingly eliciting false testimony from Dennis—testimony that contradicted her prior statements to police and prosecutors. “Dennis’[s] testimony was false, and the prosecutor knew it,” the motion declared.

The motion cited a report by Dr. Margaret Bull Kovera, a professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and an expert on eyewitness identification. After reviewing the police reports, Dr. Kovera concluded that the conditions under which Dennis made her identification were not conducive to a reliable identification. Dr. Kovera cited 14 factors that were present, including stress, weapon focus, multiple perpetrators, exposure duration, illumination and distance, retention interval, post-event information, and unconscious transference. Dr. Kovera said that an in-court identification nearly five years after the shooting amounted to an unduly suggestive one-man lineup.

The motion said that Smith’s defense attorney at trial had failed to retain an expert and also failed to use Dennis’s earlier statements to the police and prosecution to impeach her identification of Tyrone. The motion said that the defense had failed to adequately investigate the case and present testimony from two witnesses—Christopher Oliver and Aerial Haynes. Oliver, the motion said, would have testified that he and Tyrone Smith were standing next to the Jeep attempting to assess the damage by the light of a cell phone when a fight broke out in the parking lot and shots were fired.

“Oliver was certain that Tyrone Smith could not have committed the shooting because he was standing near Oliver when the shots were fired from the bank parking lot,” the motion said.

“Oliver…spent the better part of a day at the Dolton police station telling detectives what transpired and they would not accept his account, repeatedly attempting to manipulate and/or pressure him to change his story in various ways to implicate Defendant in the shooting,” the motion said.

Haynes was part of the group of friends with the victim. She was near the Jeep when she saw two men, both wearing black hoodies, one of whom had a gun in his hand, running toward “the guys in the bank parking lot.”

The motion accused Detective Coleman of testifying falsely. “Coleman falsely suggested to the jury that numerous people identified Defendant as the shooter when, in fact, not a single witness made a prior identification of the Defendant as the shooter,” the motion said.

A supplemental motion for a new trial accused the prosecution of eliciting false testimony from Dolton police commander Hope during his appearance before the grand jury that indicted Smith for the murder. Hope told the grand jury that the investigation had shown that friends of the victim had gotten into a fight with friends of Smith.

The prosecutor asked Hope: “Did your investigation reveal after the fight was defused, the defendant Tyrone J. Smith approached the group and fired a handgun multiple times striking the victim Tyrone D. Smith?”

“That is correct,” Hope replied.

That testimony was false and misleading, the defense claimed, since no witness had identified Tyrone as the gunman.

“Commander Hope’s grand jury testimony suggesting otherwise was false,” the defense asserted. “The prosecution knew it was false and obtained an indictment against Smith based on this false testimony.”

The prosecution opposed the motion, arguing that Dennis had merely identified the gunman in the bank video and that witness Shaheed had provided the link to Tyrone by identifying him as the person in the red hoodie in the video.

On June 8, 2023, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Brian Flaherty granted the motion and vacated Smith’s conviction. Judge Flaherty said he was making a “narrow” ruling that the trial defense attorney had failed to retain an eyewitness identification expert for the trial.

“There is a possibility that this would have been a different outcome had that expert testimony…been presented to the trier of fact, the jury, and I find that trial counsel gave less than effective assistance in representing the defendant during his trial,” Judge Flaherty said.

On January 8, 2024, the prosecution dismissed the murder charge, and Smith was released from the Cook County Jail.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 1/17/2024
Last Updated: 1/17/2024
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2015
Sentence:Not sentenced
Age at the date of reported crime:24
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No