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George Gould

Other Connecticut exonerations
Shortly after 5 a.m. on July 4, 1993, 51-year-old Eugenio Vega arrived to open his bodega, La Casa Green, at 330 Grand Avenue in New Haven, Connecticut. About an hour later, police were called when a customer, Mary Boyd, reported that Vega was not behind the counter.

Vega’s body was found in the rear of the store in a walk-in cooler. His hands were tied together with an electrical cord. He had been shot once in the head. A floor safe was open. A wallet was on top of a box next to the safe.

Money had not been taken from the cash register, and Vega had $1,810 in cash in his front pocket. A spent .380-caliber shell casing was in the cooler. The wallet was empty.

Police determined that Boyd had been on the street at 5:30 a.m. walking on Grand Avenue toward James Street, a block from the bodega, to buy cocaine. She told police that she was across the street from the bodega and noted movement of “people of color” in the store. She said she continued on her way and crossed paths with Tasha Williams, who was coming from James Street. They spoke briefly and went their separate ways.

After five or 10 minutes at the corner of James Street and Grand Avenue, Boyd walked back toward her residence. She stopped in La Casa Green to buy a roll of toilet tissue. When Vega was not behind the counter, she yelled his name. She felt something was wrong and so yelled up at Williams who lived in an apartment across the street to come down and check out the cooler. When Williams refused, Boyd returned to the store and took some quarters, food stamps, and two packs of cigarettes. After she left, she gave one pack to Williams, went to her apartment, and called 911.

Boyd would later testify that about an hour later, while police were still at the scene, she was approached by 31-year-old George Gould and 35-year-old Ronald Taylor. She said that they told her she was in trouble if she left fingerprints in the store. Boyd said she still didn’t know what happened, but that “they said there was a murder.”

New Haven police detective Leroy Dease interviewed Gould that day at about 1:30 p.m. in front of Tasha Williams’s house. Asked where he was the previous night, Gould said that he was around the corner at the home of a friend named Gerrilyn. Dease interviewed Gould again on July 6, 1993. Gould said that he left Gerriyln’s house around 6:15 a.m. with Taylor to go to 480 Ferry Street, several blocks from the bodega to “raise money” to buy drugs before going back to Gerrilyn’s house. Raising money meant robbing someone, police said. Gould also said he went to Tasha Williams’s house and gave her $30 around 11:30 pm. Detective Dease spoke to Taylor on July 14, and Taylor essentially told him the same story after initially denying being involved with Gould. Taylor said he got to Gerrilyn’s house around 3:00 a.m. and left around 5:30 a.m.

On July 29, 1993, a police officer posing as a man seeking to pay for sex was approached by a woman named Doreen Stiles. After she agreed to engage in sex for money, she was arrested.

Police subsequently said that Stiles told them that she was walking by the bodega and saw Gould and Taylor leaving the bodega shortly after 5 a.m. She said she was in the alley outside the store when she heard a “commotion.” She said she heard three voices. Two sounded angry, and the third was Vega, she said. Police said she told them she heard a gunshot and saw Gould and Taylor run out of the store.

On August 12, 1993, Taylor and Gould were arrested. They were charged with first-degree murder, felony murder, first-degree robbery, and attempted first-degree robbery.

Gould and Taylor went to trial in New Haven County Superior Court in January 1995. A medical examiner testified that Vega died of a gunshot wound. A police officer testified that the bullet recovered from Vega was a .380-caliber slug and that a .380-caliber shell casing had been recovered in the cooler.

Stiles’s testimony was presented through a video-tape deposition taken in a hospital where she was being treated for endocarditis, an infection of the heart valves, and complications from that infection. Stiles, who was hospitalized under her maiden name of Doreen Drenyoczky, testified that on the morning of the murder, she got up around 4 a.m. and went out for coffee. She said she walked slowly because of a disability to her leg. She said that as she neared the bodega, she saw Gould walking across the street toward the store.

She said she heard loud voices, and Vega was screaming. She said she heard a gunshot and saw Gould and Taylor come out of the store. “They jetted,” Stiles said. “They were gone. They went in the same direction they came from.”

Tasha Williams testified that she saw Gould and Taylor about an hour after the shooting. She said they looked tired and out of breath. Boyd testified about her conversation with Gould, who she said she had not met before. The conversation took place about an hour after the police arrived. She said, “I can’t say who said what, but they were saying I was in a lot of trouble, cause if I left any fingerprints in the store, because, at this point, I didn’t know whether or not he was—I didn’t even know [Vega] was dead. And they said there was a murder.”

Pamela Youmans testified that she was walking on Grand Avenue when she saw Vega parking in front of the store. She said he opened the store, and she went inside where they shared a banana. She said she asked for credit, but Vega declined. She then left. As she walked down the street, she saw a woman who walked with limp. Youmans said the woman was Stiles.

Detective Persie Gethers testified that he took two statements from Stiles. He said that she was shown a photographic lineup on July 29, 1993. Gethers said she identified Gould. She also identified Taylor.

John Bell testified that he lived with Gerrilyn Herring and that on July 4, 1993, Gould and Taylor showed up between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. People in the apartment were drinking and using drugs, he said. Bell said they left when the sun was rising, around 5 or 5:30 a.m. He said he fell asleep for about an hour before getting up to buy cigarettes at the bodega. He found police at the store. He said he saw Gould on the street.

The defense called Herring, who testified that Gould and Taylor left between 5:30 and 6 a.m. She said she remembered because she had to get her son ready for school.

In an attempt to undercut Stiles, Mickey Miller testified for the defense that she often sold drugs to Stiles.

On February 1, 1995, the jury convicted Taylor and Gould of felony murder, armed robbery, attempted armed robbery, and conspiracy to commit robbery. The jury acquitted them of first-degree murder. They were sentenced to 80 years in prison.

In 1997, the Connecticut Supreme Court upheld the convictions, though it modified the judgment to merge the attempted robbery conviction with the robbery conviction.

In October 2003, Gould and Taylor each filed a state petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The Division of Public Defender Services assigned habeas attorneys and an investigator, Gerald O’Donnell, a former inspector in the New Haven State’s Attorney’s Office, was hired. O’Donnell was instructed to find Stiles.

O’Donnell found her in 2006, living in a nursing home in Manchester where she was undergoing rehabilitation for her legs. She was living there under her maiden name, Drenyoczky. Just a few minutes into the interview, Stiles said she had not been at the scene of the murder.

A trial was held on the habeas petition in August, 2009. It lasted 16 days. Stiles testified that her account at the trial was a lie. Asked if she had “made it all up,” Stiles replied, “Yes, I did…I wasn’t there. I lied.”

She said she had not been near the store, had not heard voices yelling or a gunshot, and did not see Gould and Taylor leave the store.

She said that she had provided her statement to police after being arrested during a prostitution sweep. Stiles said she was a heroin addict and began to suffer withdrawal symptoms during the several hours of questioning by police. At the time, she had been a heroin addict for about 10 years and used 10 bags of heroin daily.

She testified that detectives refused to release her until she told them what they wanted to hear and that they informed her that they would drive her to buy heroin if she confirmed that she was at the scene when the homicide occurred. She further testified that she had identified Gould and Taylor in a photographic array based on implicit body language given by the detectives.

Stiles said she then left the police station with Detective Brian Sullivan and Officer Daniel Gleason. They drove her to a location where Sullivan gave her $60 so she could buy heroin. She said she bought three $20 bags, and the officers then took her home.

Stiles said that the night before the probable cause hearing, Sullivan and Gleason took her and her boyfriend out to dinner, then took them to a hotel where they spent the night. Beforehand, Sullivan gave Stiles $100 and took her out so she could buy five $20 bags of heroin. During the night, Stiles and her boyfriend took turns going into the bathroom to inject the heroin. She said she and her boyfriend slept in the bed, Sullivan stayed in the room in a chair, and Gleason stayed outside the door.

Stiles acknowledged that she had never told anyone that she had lied about events during the criminal trial until she was approached by O'Donnell. Asked why she admitted to O’Donnell that she had testified falsely, she said, “Because it bothered me for so many years that I did that, that I lied, and I ruined two people’s lives.”

The prosecution and police had not disclosed prior to Gould’s and Taylor’s trial that Stiles had been given money to buy heroin and had used it in the hotel room.

Lawyers for Gould and Taylor presented evidence that Vega’s son, Carlos DeLeon, who handled the bank transactions for the store, had written a number of checks against the store’s account without his father’s knowledge. As a consequence, a $50,000 check Vega had written for the purchase of a property across the street from the bodega bounced. The lawyers contended that the bank told Vega it wouldn’t reimburse him unless he authorized the prosecution of his son.

In September of 2009, an article about the case was published in the online edition of the Fairfield County Weekly. A comment was posted to that article by a woman who identified herself as a daughter of Carlos DeLeon. In her comment, she stated that she felt “so ashamed of my father being a murderer, killing his own father.”

In March 2010, Judge Stanley Fuger Jr. concluded that Stiles’s recantation was credible. He had viewed Stiles’s videotaped testimony that was presented at the trial 13 years earlier. Judge Fuger found that Stiles’s demeanor on the witness stand during the habeas trial “is far more conducive to finding her to be credible when she recanted her earlier testimony than when she initially delivered that earlier testimony.”

Mary Boyd also testified at the habeas hearing and recanted her trial testimony as well. She said her trial testimony that she saw two people of color in the bodega was false. She said she had never seen Gould or Taylor before. Boyd said her false testimony had been “eating [her] conscience up” knowing that “[t]wo men were going to spend the rest of their lives in jail.”

On March 17, 2010, Judge Fuger issued a 95-page ruling that vacated the convictions of Gould and Taylor on the grounds of “actual innocence.” Gould and Taylor were released on bond on April 1, 2010.

The prosecution appealed. On July 19, 2011, the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed Judge Fuger’s ruling and ordered a new habeas trial. The ruling found that Judge Fuger had failed to properly apply the actual innocence standard. The court said that the standard required “affirmative evidence” that Gould and Taylor did not commit the crime, “not simply the discrediting of evidence on which the conviction rested.” The court did note that the recantations by Stiles and Boyd “may demonstrate that there no longer is any credible evidence that [Gould and Taylor] did commit the crimes of which they were convicted.”

Gould’s bond was revoked, and he returned to custody on August 8, 2011. Taylor was not required to return to prison because he was terminally ill with colon cancer. Taylor died in October 2011. By that time, police had brought Stiles to the New Haven police department where she gave a video-recorded interview recanting her recantation. She said that O’Donnell had confused her, threatened her, gave her gifts, and promised future gifts. She said her trial testimony was the truth.

When police returned to Stiles’s apartment with a written transcription of the interview, she refused to sign it. She said that her video statement was false; that her trial testimony was false. In May 2012, prior to the second habeas trial, O’Donnell was charged with bribery and tapering with a witness. He was accused of—and did not dispute—that he had done some favors for Stiles and had given her some gifts.

The second habeas trial was held in 2012 before Judge Samuel Sferrazza. At this trial, Gould testified that he did not commit the crime. Stiles invoked her Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination and refused to testify. As a result, Judge Sferrazza only saw Stiles’s original trial testimony from 1993.

On September 18, 2012, Judge Sferrazza denied the habeas petition.

That ruling was being appealed in 2013 when O’Donnell went to trial. By that time, the state had added other charges. He faced two counts of perjury, two counts of witness tampering, and one count of bribery of a witness. Stiles was again called to testify. When she invoked her Fifth Amendment protection, the prosecution granted her immunity. Stiles then testified that her recantation at the first habeas trial was the truth.

Asked why she lied at the trial, Stiles mentioned that she was addicted to heroin. “I was on the street for 13 years, nowhere to live. I lived in cars, vans, abandoned houses…I had nowhere to go. My life was so hard. When [the] New Haven Police Department picked me up and brought [me] to the detective bureau—when I was starting to go through withdrawal, I had been there so long from being questioned. They bought drugs for me. They bought me clothes; they took me out to eat. They took care of my needs and made it easy for me to just keep going on with that lie. I know it doesn’t sound right now; I can see that. But then I was out of—I couldn’t reason with reality…I was sick, and I just couldn’t think right.”

Stiles noted that O’Donnell told her she should tell the truth. She said he told her “not to worry, you know, as long as I was honest and told the truth that everything would be good, would work out.” Evidence was presented that after Stiles’s initial recantation, O’Donnell visited her about once a week for a year, possibly longer. He drove her to visit her mother twice, took her to medical appointments, bought her pizza and candy. He purchased a television and service plan for $204 and gave her money she used to buy a stereo. After Stiles left the nursing home, she and her husband moved into a motel. At times, O’Donnell helped out with the $980 monthly rent.

In October 2013, the judge overseeing O’Donnell’s trial granted a motion for acquittal on one of the tampering charges. The jury acquitted him of both perjury charges, but convicted him of one count of bribery of a witness and one count of witness tampering.

On January 24, 2014, O’Donnell was sentenced to four years in prison.

In September 2015, the Connecticut Appellate Court affirmed Judge Sferrazza’s ruling that denied Gould’s habeas petition. The Connecticut Supreme Court denied further appeal.

A motion for Gould’s sentence modification was filed in March 2021. On May 4, 2021, at the conclusion of a hearing on the motion, Judge Gerald L. Harmon modified Gould’s sentence to 26 years. Gould was released on parole the following day.

Over the years, a battery of attorneys had represented Gould and Taylor. In March 2022, attorneys Richard Emanuel, Joette Katz, and Damon Kirschbaum requested that the Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) of the Connecticut Division of Criminal Justice review the case.

In May 2023, the CIU prepared a 74-page report on the case. The CIU report recited the case history in painstaking detail. The report noted that the FBI had administered a polygraph examination to Stiles. She was asked if she had seen “those men” (Gould and Taylor) inside the bodega on the day in question, and she responded in the negative. The result of the polygraph examination was “NDI,” which stood for “No Deception Indicated.”

In addition, FBI agents had interviewed two of former relatives of Vega’s son, Carlos DeLeon. One was a woman who had a son with DeLeon. The other was that woman’s daughter—the woman who, in 2009, had posted a comment that Carlos DeLeon had killed his own father. The two women told the FBI that Carlos DeLeon had confessed to them that he had murdered his father soon after Vega discovered that Carlos had embezzled significant funds from Vega’s bank account. The daughter also told the FBI that DeLeon had raped her in 2004 when she was thirteen years old. She reported that the sexual abuse lasted for about a year.

The report said that the CIU “leaves the weight to be given to the inconsistencies” in Stiles’s testimony and “the evaluation and subsequent credibility to the State’s Attorney for the originating jurisdiction who will decide on the appropriate action required to do justice in the matter.”

On February 1, 2024, New Haven State’s Attorney Jack Doyle, citing the CIU report, asked Judge Harmon to vacate Gould’s convictions. The judge granted the motion and then dismissed the case at Emanuel’s request.

Gould, now 61 years old, told the judge, “I would like to thank everyone, and I’d like to say it’s been a long road, a long road to get a clean record. That’s about all I have to say or want to say.“

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/20/2024
Last Updated: 2/20/2024
County:New Haven
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Robbery, Attempt, Violent, Conspiracy
Reported Crime Date:1993
Sentence:80 years
Age at the date of reported crime:31
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No