“On December 19, 2018, the Court, on its initiative, heard live testimony of the recanting witness, Christine Holloway. The Court did so to assess Watson’s claim of actual innocence. Watson and Respondent each then filed letters assessing that testimony.
For the reasons below…the Court denies Watson’s petition as untimely.” (italics added)
“Holloway’s testimony does not supply credible or compelling evidence of Watson’s actual innocence so as to overcome the time bar to Watson’s petition. The Court denies Watson’s petition.”
-Paul A. Engelmayer, United States District Judge
February 21, 2019
New York, NY
Judge Paul Engelmayer, with an opportunity to undo a flagrant and terrible injustice by clearing the way for Shane Watson's exoneration, instead chose to pass the buck and hide behind procedural minutiae.
In a 27-page decision, Paul Engelmayer effectively denied our assertion of Shane Watson’s innocence, essentially concluding that Christine Holloway’s recantation was “incredible”. As well, Engelmayer cited a violation of the “time bar. Allow me to explain:
In July of 2012, we filed a 440.10 motion in the NY State Court.
What is a 440 motion? This is known as a motion to vacate judgment. A defendant is able to file this motion any time after the entry of judgment. A judgment can be vacated on certain grounds. This could occur is the court did not have jurisdiction of the action or the defendant, the judgment was procured by duress, misrepresentation or fraud on the part of the court or prosecutor, material evidence at trial was false and known to be false by the prosecutor,the defendant was unable to understand the proceedings because of a mental disease or defect and improper or prejudicial conduct not appearing on the record occurred during trial.
The 440 motion we filed in July 2012 was perpetuated by our having located Christine Holloway (the coerced “eyewitness”) in Georgia, and secured her recantation in an affidavit (official legal document). Obviously, this recantation was critical to our ongoing claim of Shane’s innocence. So, what’s the problem? The problem relates to the timing of the 440 motion we filed. Section 2244(d)(1) of the United States Penal Code sets a ONE YEAR LIMITATION for filing a successive 440 motion (Shane had filed a previous motion on other grounds before Holloway’s recantation affidavit). Since our motion was filed on July 27, 2012, we exceeded the one-year time limitation by…one month.
Why? Filing a motion takes time and money. Even though, according to what is known as “equitable tolling” (a measure of leniency regarding the one-year limitation), Engelmayer upheld a previous report stating that “Watson did not meet (it’s ) strict requirements of extraordinary circumstances and reasonable diligence throughout the relevant period. A petitioner’s limited funds to finance an investigation or suit, alone, do not establish equitable tolling.” In other words, if you can’t afford an attorney and investigator to file a 440 motion on your behalf, tough luck.
As I understand the legalese of Engelmayer’s decision, two factors determined his decision to deny our motion:
· The violation of the time limitation for our 2012 440 motion
· The “incredible” recantation of Christine Holloway
I sat in the Federal courtroom on December 19 and listened carefully to Christine Holloway as she was questioned and cross-examined. Shane was represented by our attorney Robert Boyle, as well as Glenn Garber, the director of The Exoneration Initiative, and his assistant director Rebecca Freedman. Garber did the questioning of Holloway, aptly and methodically. Christine Holloway was visibly shaken during her entire testimony. I agree with Garber’s assessment, as written to Judge Engelmayer following the hearing: “The firmness of Holloway’s recantation is undeniable. Despite vacillating over the years (or being “flippy floppy”, to use her words) Holloway is steadfast that she did not get a sufficient look at the perpetrator’s face to make an identification, that she was influenced by the police to identify Watson, and that she lied at trial (Shane’s 1993 trial) about her identification.”
As I listened to Holloway answer questions, my frustration with her fragility was, repeatedly, relieved by her conviction and absolute certainty that she 1) lied at the original trial out of fear, and that she 2) did NOT and could NOT identify the shooter of Mark Johnson on the night of October 9, 1991. I had no doubts about her sincerity, as well as her genuine remorse over her blunders. She was shaken and crying, and despite being incoherent at times, her testimony consistently reaffirmed her straightforward assertion that, in her words “I lied” (at trial). She avoided making eye contact with Shane, who was seated at the defense table just a few yards in front of the witness stand.
In the United States of America, convicting someone who is poor, black, and innocent, is a routine occurrence. There is no squabbling over “time limitations”. Shane’s conviction was wrapped up and tidy, and his sentencing was quick and efficient. Time? When it comes to convicting and sentencing the poor, NY State has it down to an art form. It’s fast and easy, just the way we like things done in the US.
Undoing a tragic error, on the other hand, turns the tables. We have been fighting for Shane’s exoneration for fifteen long years now, and were it not for the grace of our investigator Doug Walters coming forward to take on an investigation (without asking for or being paid a dime), it is unlikely that Shane’s case would have ever gone to court at all. No matter that Shane has lost 25 years of his life due to the incompetence and malfeasance of Detective Sevelie Jones, the Bronx DA’s office and the pathetic non-investigation that led to Shane’s conviction. Rulings like this latest one by Judge Engelmayer just perpetuate the pernicious legal maneuvering and endless procedural delays that are designed to wear down the spirit and strength of someone falsely convicted, as well as those who support him/her. The snide prosecutors from the Bronx DA’s office now are gleefully congratulating themselves on another “win”, without a thought to the monstrous truth: they locked an innocent man in a cage for 25 years.
RETIRED DETECTIVE SEVILIE JONES: On February 18, 2019, Bronx Justice News reporter Kevin Deutsch reported that retired detective Sevelie Jones is one of three former Bronx detectives now under scrutiny for violating constitutional rights of suspects, as well as coercing false confessions. When this article was published, my initial reaction was that of exuberance: undoubtedly, Judge Engelmayer would be made aware of this development and take it into account when making his ruling. After all, it was Detective Sevelie Jones who coerced Christine Holloway’s “identification” of Shane in the early hours of October 10, 1991, and then went on to non-investigate the crime.
In a footnote to his ruling, Engelmayer added this blurb:
“Watson’s counsel recently alerted the Court that he has initiated an investigation into alleged misconduct by the lead detective in this case, Sevelie Jones. The court declines to stay resolution of Watson‘s pending petition on this ground”.
Is not the overall function of any court the pursuit of justice? Sadly, procedural games and mind-numbing aesthetics cloud this basic tenet.
I received word of Engelmayer’s decision via a text from Shane, who wrote “The fight continues.” In the days ahead, I will confer with Robert Boyle and Glenn Garber to decide what our next move is. The system wants us to throw our hands up in disgust, but if there is one lesson we have learned its patience, and nobody knows about patience more than Shane.
February 23, 2019