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James Lucien

Other Suffolk County, Massachusetts exonerations
During the evening of June 25, 1994, 23-year-old Ryan Edwards was shot once as he sat behind the wheel of a car in Boston, Massachusetts. He died several hours later at a hospital.

On November 14, 1994, a Suffolk County grand jury indicted 21-year-old James Lucien and Jamal Butler. The indictment alleged that Lucien and Butler arranged to buy $850 of cocaine from Edwards, and that Lucien shot Edwards while he was in a car with Edwards and Edwards’s half-brother, 21-year-old Alfred Clarke.

By the time the case went to trial in November 1995 in Suffolk County Superior Court, Butler had agreed to plead guilty to a robbery charge in return for his testimony.

The prosecution’s theory was that Lucien was in the backseat of Edwards’s car when he fired a single shot that killed Edwards. Detective John Brazil had logged into evidence a pager and cash, which he said he recovered from the car.

The prosecution asked the jury to ignore a dying declaration made by Edwards to the first police officer to reach the scene. The officer, Brian Black, reported that Edwards said he had been shot by someone standing outside the car. Black made no written report or notes of his interaction with Edwards. Detective Brazil arrived and took over the investigation not long after the shooting.

Officer George Foley testified that he examined a .25-caliber shell casing recovered from the front seat of the car as well as a bullet that came from Edwards’s body. He did not testify that the casing and the bullet were linked in any way. During his testimony, he told the jury that he had been off work for several months due to an injury and had just returned to work when the shooting occurred.

Clarke testified that after Edwards got a communication on his pager, Clarke called the number and spoke to Butler. Butler knew Edwards because they had met in jail. Butler asked to purchase an ounce of cocaine. They agreed to meet for the sale at a restaurant on Warren Street. Butler arrived in a car with several other people, including Lucien. Butler got into the back of Edwards’s car. A price of $850 was agreed upon and Butler left the car. Moments later, Lucien got into the back seat. Edwards drove his car out of the restaurant parking lot.

Clarke testified that after Lucien got in, he pulled out a handgun and attempted to rob Clarke. Clarke testified that he gave up his pager, money, and a bracelet, but held onto a gun. At first, he told police that Lucien hit Edwards on the head with a gun, but he recanted that after learning there was no mark on Edwards’s head.

Clarke claimed that after he gave up his valuables, he got out of the car. As Edwards began to pull away, Clarke said he saw a flash of gunfire from a few yards away. Even though his half-brother apparently had been shot, Clarke said he hid his gun in some bushes and then went to a bar because he was on probation and “didn’t want to get caught.”

When police arrived, Clarke approached and said that Lucien had used a revolver. In his first statement to police, Clarke claimed he had been unarmed. The following day, Clarke retrieved the gun he hid in the bushes.

Months later, after police received information that Clark had a gun, Detective Brazil questioned him. Clarke admitted that was when he first said he had a gun. However, he claimed he never fired it or even pulled it out. He claimed the gun was a .380-caliber revolver. Clarke testified that he actually did possess a .25-caliber semi-automatic pistol—the caliber of the casing found in the car and of the bullet removed from Edwards. However, he said he got the .25-caliber after trading his .380-caliber revolver for it. Clarke admitted he kept the .25-caliber under his bed.

Clarke’s sister, Judith Richards, testified that she found a gun under Clarke’s bed a month after the shooting. She testified she hid the gun in a lunchbox and later threw it into the trash. The gun was never recovered and thus no comparison could be made. She also testified that Edwards and Clarke were drug dealers.

Detective Brazil testified that he spoke to Andrew Neal, the man that Clarke said he traded weapons with. Brazil said Neal confirmed the swap. However, Brazil never wrote a report about the conversation. He did say, in response to questions from the prosecutor, that he talked to Neal in the presence of the prosecution.

Later, when Lucien’s defense called Neal as a witness, the prosecution suggested that Neal might have invoked his Fifth Amendment right to not testify for fear of incriminating himself. The prosecutor and the judge declined to confer immunity on Neal and he did not testify.

Brazil testified that he was called to the scene around 10:40 p.m. He said he interviewed Clarke several times and collected $16 in cash and a pager that Clarke said belonged to Edwards. Brazil said he had the pager and the cash since the day he was called to the crime. The trial judge ordered that the money be photocopied and it was presented as an exhibit.

Brazil also testified that when he went to the hospital, he could not find Edwards’s clothing in the emergency room. He admitted he looked no further and left after about three minutes.

Brazil testified that Butler’s girlfriend, Erica Jones, told him that Lucien shot Clarke.

Butler testified that it was his idea to rob Edwards. He also said he never saw Lucien with a gun at that time. Butler recounted how he got into the car and negotiated the purchase of cocaine for $850. Butler said that after he got out and Lucien got in, Edwards began to drive off. He said he ran toward the car, but fled after the shooting.

He said that the following day, Lucien gave him some cocaine, and admitted that he shot Edwards.

Erica Jones, Butler’s girlfriend, initially said that she heard Butler and Lucien negotiating a drug deal on the phone. She told police that Clarke started the shooting by pulling a gun. She testified that Butler told her that Clarke or Edwards pulled out a gun, “the car went crazy, somebody got shot.” She testified that Butler said he did not know who shot Edwards.

Jones denied telling Brazil that Butler told her that Lucien shot Clarke. She also said that Brazil told her that he had a warrant for her arrest if she refused to testify.

Detective Keith Turner testified that he was off duty when he heard two gunshots and saw a car pull into a parking area near 12 Albert Street. He said he called 911 and went to the car, where he saw Edwards. Turner said Edwards told him he was shot and gave him a phony name.

Turner testified that he saw a quantity of money on Edwards’s lap. He said he did not notice how much it was, but said that money was later photographed by crime scene officers.

Dr. Leonard Atkins testified that he conducted an autopsy. He concluded that Edwards was shot once and that the bullet entered on Edwards’s right side. He said the gunshot wound “passed from right to left, downward and slightly toward the back. Dr. Atkins also told the jury that he could not determine how close the gun that fired the shot was to Edwards. He said that if the shooting occurred at close range, powder residue might have been found on Edwards’s skin. No such residue was found, though. Without Edwards’s clothing, Atkins said he could not exclude the possibility that Edwards was shot at close range. Dr. Atkins also said there was no evidence Edwards had been struck on the head as Clarke had claimed.

Lucien’s defense attorney had consulted with a firearms analyst and a pathologist prior to the trial. The pathologist was prepared to testify that the evidence showed that Edwards’s wound “would have been classified as a distant wound.”

The firearms analyst was going to testify that a .25-caliber pistol is a “low-powered gun,” which was not likely to fire a fatal shot unless it struck a vital organ. As a result, a shot made from the backseat to the front seat of a car would not have been expected to be fatal “unless it was made at close range and most likely at the head. The expert had opined that a “typically short-barreled .25 would produce residue on surfaces approximately 2 feet from the muzzle upon firing; that if the shot had been made at such close range, it would therefore have left power residue.” In his opinion, “the shot was fired by someone reaching across the passenger’s seat or up to a foot or two from the car with the passenger’s door open.”

Lucien’s defense attorney did not call either witness because the trial was scheduled to begin the day after Thanksgiving and both witnesses had vacations scheduled. The defense lawyer later conceded he did not want “to anger them.”

During deliberations, the jury noticed that the serial numbers on the money in the crime scene photographs differed from the serial numbers on the money that Detective Brazil produced while on the witness stand. The jury asked whether the money and pager produced by Brazil were supposed to be the ones recovered at the scene. “If there are any differences, should this be disregarded?” the jury asked.

Lucien’s defense attorney asked for a mistrial, accusing Brazil of “testalying.” That motion was denied. The trial judge told the jury, “I cannot comment on the evidence. It is the jury’s collective memory that controls. You may consider all the evidence submitted—both the oral testimony and all the exhibits.”

On November 28, 1995, the jury convicted Lucien of first-degree murder, two counts of armed robbery, and one count of illegal possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

After the jury was excused, the judge asked Detective Brazil why the pager marked in evidence was not the same pager taken from the crime scene. Brazil’s response was less than clear. “If I may, your honor,” he said. “The beeper that’s in the photograph is not the beeper that we were able to garnish; the telephone number that was the origin of setting up the drug deal. This beeper that I have in—this is the beeper that’s in the photograph, and this is listed with this company as the last person to own this, is Alfred Clarke. Alfred Clarke told us in his statement that it was his brother’s beeper that the number came in on and that is in fact the beeper than I had entered into evidence. And that is the beeper that those numbers came in on.”

Brazil had never disclosed that there were two different pagers or that the recovered pager was registered to Clarke. The judge did not ask Brazil why the money he produced at trial had different serial numbers than the money recovered at the crime scene.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) upheld Lucien’s convictions in 2004.

In 2016, the SJC affirmed an order for a new trial for Sean Ellis, who had been convicted in September 1995 of the murder of a Boston police detective John Mulligan in 1993. Ellis was granted a new trial based in part on newly discovered evidence about Detective Brazil’s misconduct in other cases. Ellis was exonerated in 2018.

In February 1996, the Boston Police anti-corruption unit had begun investigating several detectives for robbing drug dealers. The unit had received complaints of corruption that included allegations against Mulligan as well. In October 1997, a federal grand jury indicted two detectives—Walter Robinson and Kenneth Acerra—on numerous charges including the falsification of search warrants and theft of thousands of dollars from drug dealers dating back to 1990—three years before Mulligan was murdered. Robinson and Acerra later pled guilty, and each was sentenced to three years in prison. Detective Brazil was granted immunity in return for his testimony that he prepared false affidavits for search warrants, falsely claimed to have performed surveillance when he had not, and participated in robberies with Acerra and Robinson. Brazil retired on a disability.

Ultimately, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office Integrity Review Bureau (IRB) conducted an extensive review of Lucien’s case at the request of Dennis Toomey, who had begun representing Lucien.

In August 2021, Toomey moved for a new trial citing Brazil’s misconduct and admission in federal court to a vast array of misconduct over several years. The motion said, “The misconduct included submitting false affidavits and false search warrant applications, stealing money from crime scenes and criminals, lying in investigations, ripping off drug dealers (like Clarke), making deals with criminals and their lawyers, reporting that less money was recovered from crime scenes than they actually recovered so they could keep money, and retroactively trying to substitute in different money if anyone important ever came looking for missing money.”

The motion also noted that although Foley testified that he had been off due to an injury, in fact he had been stripped of his badge and gun and hospitalized for a mental breakdown. One superior, according to records, said that Foley was “unable to differentiate fact from fiction.”

In addition, the motion said that Detective William Mahoney, who was also involved in the investigation of Edwards’s murder along with Detective Brazil, had been suspended for 30 days for failing to disclose statements by Donnell Johnson, who was convicted of an October 1994 murder. The suspension occurred after Lucien's trial. Johnson was exonerated in 2000.

Moreover, Neal—the man who Clarke said he traded a .380-caliber revolver to for a .25-caliber pistol after Edwards was shot—told a different story of how he came to have the .380 pistol. According to the motion, Neal—who did not testify at Lucien’s trial—told police that the gun belonged to a man named Orlando Sutera. “If Neal really got that gun from Orlando Sutera, then Clarke lied about trading guns with Neal,” the motion said. “If Clarke lied about trading guns with Neal, then why did he lie?” A police report that contained Neal's statement about Sutera was never introduced at trial and the jury never heard about that evidence.

The motion said the answer to that question was simple—Clarke had in fact shot Edwards, perhaps by accident or perhaps during an unsuccessful attempt to rob Lucien of the $850 intended for the purchase of cocaine.

Toomey concluded the nearly 200-page motion: “Here, the trial was fundamentally unfair, Mr. Lucien did not get to present a complete defense, the jury did not get to hear the full truth, exculpatory evidence was withheld, and justice was not done.”

In a response prepared by David Lewis, chief of the Suffolk IRB, and Special Assistant District Attorney Jeanne Kempthorne, the prosecution agreed, saying “justice was not done in this case.”

Lewis said the case was flawed by the failure to disclose the true nature of Foley’s absence from the force and was severely undercut by Brazil’s misconduct. The prosecution agreed that Lucien’s murder and armed robbery convictions should be vacated, but not the weapons possession conviction.

Lewis noted that although Lucien did not testify at the trial, he had admitted that he had a gun on the day of the crime. However, Lucien said that when he got into the back of the car, Clarke drew a gun to rob him. Lucien, Lewis’s response said, “contends that it was the victim’s brother who accidentally shot the victim from outside the car.”

On December 7, 2021, Lucien’s murder and armed robbery convictions were vacated and the charges were dismissed. Lucien was released from prison, more than 26 years after he was convicted.

In February 2024, Lucien filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking compensation for his wrongful conviction.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 12/22/2021
Last Updated: 2/27/2024
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Robbery
Reported Crime Date:1994
Sentence:Life without parole
Age at the date of reported crime:21
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No