On the evening of July 24, 1997, 18-year-old Sherwin Gibbons was fatally shot in the vestibule of the apartment building where he lived on Chauncey Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York.
Witnesses told police that Gibbons was drinking a beer with some friends when a man came in and shot him. Ten shots were fired in all.
Nearly five months later, in December, police said that Aisha Jones, who lived in an apartment building near the shooting, identified 35-year-old Roger Logan as the gunman and picked him out of a lineup as the shooter. On December 12, 1997, Logan was charged with murder.
Logan went on trial in Kings County Supreme Court in April 1998. Prosecutors argued that Logan had been at a dice game where someone stole his gold chain. According to the prosecution, Gibbons was shot in retaliation in a case of mistaken identity. Logan denied involvement in the crime.
Logan’s defense lawyers challenged Jones’s identification of Logan, contending that Logan was viewed in a lineup with people of different races and different heights. The trial judge agreed, saying the lineup put a “spotlight” on Logan, and barred testimony about the lineup.
However, the judge allowed Jones to identify Logan in court after she testified that she had seen him throughout the day of the shooting, as early as noon. She said that she was on the street and saw Logan begin firing. She then said she ran to her nearby apartment building and upstairs to her apartment. She said she looked out the window and saw Logan fire the last of the 10 shots.
On May 3, 1999, a jury convicted Logan of second-degree murder and he was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
In 2011, Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes created a Conviction Integrity Unit and invited defense attorneys to present cases in which innocent defendants may have been convicted. One case the unit learned about was that of David Ranta
, who was convicted of murder based on an investigation by Detective Louis Scarcella (who had retired in 1999). The Conviction Integrity Unit’s investigation found that one witness had been told to pick Ranta in a lineup, and that two prosecution witnesses—both convicted felons—were allowed to leave jail, smoke crack and have sex with prostitutes in return for implicating Ranta.
In March 2013, Ranta’s conviction was vacated, the charge was dismissed and he was released from prison.
A few months later, The New York Times published an article accusing Scarcella of misconduct in many investigations: fabricating evidence, coercing witnesses and concealing evidence of defendants’ innocence. The report, along with a growing chorus of other news media, imprisoned defendants and defense lawyers, prompted the Kings County Conviction Integrity Unit to begin to re-investigate 57 cases in which Scarcella was involved and more than 30 other murder cases in Brooklyn.
Logan—whose case was investigated by Scarcella—learned about the inquiry in prison and wrote to the District Attorney’s Office and asked that his case be reviewed.
Working under Kings County District Attorney Ken Thompson, who defeated Hynes in his bid for re-election in the fall of 2013, the Conviction Integrity Unit reviewed Logan’s case file and discovered a rap sheet for Jones showing that she was arrested at 4:30 p.m. on July 23—the day before Gibbons was killed. A review of all of Jones’s records showed that the earliest she could have been freed from custody was 7 p.m. on the day of the shooting—casting grave suspicion on her claim that she had seen Logan several times prior to the shooting.
Had the information about Jones being in custody been disclosed to the defense and to the judge prior to trial, Jones’s in-court identification likely would have been barred and at the least, her credibility would have been undermined.
The Conviction Integrity Unit then tracked down four people who were in the vestibule of the building where Gibbons was killed. Only one of them said he saw Logan at the scene, but that witness said Logan was not the shooter. The witnesses confirmed that a dice game had occurred a few days earlier and that Logan’s chain had been stolen. But, the witnesses said that Logan had gotten it back and so there was no motive for retaliation. Two of these witnesses told investigators they were the ones who stole the chain and gave it back to Logan prior to the shooting.
A Conviction Integrity Unit lawyer and investigator went to 373 Chauncey Street, the scene of the shooting, and re-enacted Jones’s description of what she claimed she did that day. The investigator stood in the lobby and mimed gunshots and the lawyer tried to run to Jones’s apartment. They determined that Jones’s account was very unlikely because of the distance and the climb involved.
Jones was interviewed in Pennsylvania, where she had moved, and she said she could have done it because she was a high school track athlete. When investigators noted that she was 5 feet 6 inches and weighed 170 pounds at the time, she changed her story and said she saw the entire shooting while on the street.
Based on the findings of the re-investigation, Logan was brought to Kings County Supreme Court on June 3, 2014, where the prosecution asked that his conviction be vacated. The motion was granted, the prosecution dismissed the charge and Logan was released.
Logan subsequently filed a claim for compensation with the New York Court of Claims.
– Maurice Possley