Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Donnesia Brown

Other Guilty Plea Exonerations in New York
On January 27, 2016, a guard at the Auburn Correctional Facility in Auburn, New York accused 47-year-old inmate Donnesia Brown of illegally possessing a weapon fashioned from a toothbrush.

The guard, 33-year-old Matthew Cornell reported that Brown, who was serving a sentence of four to five years for robbery, was caught carrying the weapon during a search. After a disciplinary hearing, he was sent to solitary confinement for six months.

On August 2, 2016, three weeks before Brown was to be released on parole on the robbery conviction, a Cayuga County grand jury indicted him on a charge of first-degree possession of contraband.

Brown later contended in an interview with a journalist that Cornell and another guard came to his cell and said they had received a report that he had a weapon. They patted him down and found nothing. They then took him out of the cell and into a nearby room to perform a strip search. According to Brown, Cornell said, “This ain’t personal. You got a weapon?”

When Brown said he did not, Cornell replied, “You got one now.” Brown said that Cornell then opened the door of the room, reached out to a ledge outside, and grabbed an object wrapped in black cloth. Cornell opened it to show a toothbrush that had been sharpened into a weapon.

Brown was accused of hiding the weapon between his buttocks.

Realizing that it was his word against Cornell’s, Brown accepted a prosecution offer to plead guilty in return for a sentence of two to four years in prison.

In December 2016, Cayuga County District Attorney District Attorney Jon Budelman revealed that Cornell had admitted planting a weapon on another inmate at the Auburn prison. The inmate was a member of a prison gang, and Cornell wanted the inmate to be transferred to another prison to try to break up the gang.

Because of Cornell’s admission, the inmate involved in that incident was not charged with a crime. However, Budelman then asked a Cayuga County Supreme Court judge to vacate the convictions of Brown and four other inmates, all of whom had pled guilty to similar charges even though they claimed at the time that the weapons had been planted. In all five cases, Cornell was the guard who said he found the weapons.

On January 19, 2017, Brown’s conviction was vacated and the charge was dismissed. That same month, convictions of Thomas Ozzborn, Naythen Aubain, Jose Muniz and Sean Gaines also were vacated and the charges were dismissed.

In September 2017, Brown filed a federal lawsuit seeking compensation from the state of New York, the Department of Corrections and Cornell. In June 2018, the claims against the state of New York and the Department of Corrections were dismissed, leaving Cornell as the remaining defendant. A federal jury ruled in Cornell's favor on July 8, 2021.

– Maurice Possley

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date: 7/20/2017
Last Updated: 10/21/2021
State:New York
Most Serious Crime:Weapon Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2016
Sentence:2 to 4 years
Age at the date of reported crime:47
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No