Saturday, April 4, 2015

Are You Listening DA Johnson?



Mr. Robert Johnson,  Meet Mr. Shane Watson


The name Shane Watson means nothing to Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson, but it should. On October 13, 1993, Mr. Watson was convicted of second-degree murder following a brief trial in the State Supreme Court on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. The case surrounded the shooting death of Mr. Mark Johnson on a dark October night in 1991 on Schieffelin Avenue.  This conviction was delivered under the watch of DA Johnson, and in the courtroom of Gerald Scheindlin (husband of “Judge Judy”). “Justice” was served up just the way most DA’s like it to be: quick and easy. Shane Watson, now 49 years old, was sentenced to a term of 25 years to life. At this writing, he has been incarcerated in the New York State prison system for 21 years and 173 days. It all seems like a routine conviction of just another shooting death in the Bronx, except for one important detail: Shane Watson did not commit this crime. 


Since 2004 my organization, The Opus 30 Mission, has fought for Mr. Watson’s exoneration. I first became acquainted with Shane through the NYC radio station WBAI. The late Al Lewis hosted a Saturday morning program, speaking out against the profit-driven prison industry and advocating for sentencing reform.  Listeners were invited to send in postcards to the program should they wish to correspond with and offer moral support to inmates. I sent in a postcard. On December 17, 2003 I received a letter from Shane Watson. This was the start of a correspondence which has grown into a friendship and a sobering education in the flaws of our justice system. After studying Shane’s court transcripts it seemed clear to me that his conviction was a monumental miscarriage of justice. Shane’s case was primarily an eyewitness case, and the prosecution relied on coerced and flimsy accounts of a fleeting, hooded shooter running across Schieffelin Avenue at 11:30 PM on a dark October night. 


There were other serious problems with this conviction. The lead detective in the case, Sevilie Jones, led what was essentially a non-investigation of the case. After Shane’s arrest in 1991, two years passed before the trial began. During that time the police never searched Shane Watson’s apartment for a gun or clothing containing gunpowder residue. The victim, Mark Johnson, was on parole at the time of his death, having been convicted of murder in 1983. The police never questioned anyone connected to his victim. Detective Jones manipulated a photo array in order to coerce an identification of Shane Watson, basically concerned with closing the case quickly. Bronx DA Robert Johnson should take some interest in this. 


In 2014, Brooklyn was at the center of 11 exonerations, due to the foresight of DA Kenneth Thompson, and the work of the Brooklyn Conviction Review Unit.  The Bronx needs to wake up and follow Brooklyn’s lead. Given the malfeasance and sloppy work of Detective Sevilie Jones in Shane Watson’s case, one critical question becomes starkly and stunningly obvious: how many other bad convictions have taken place in the Bronx? How many more Shane Watsons are languishing anonymously in NY State prisons? 


According to the Vera Institute of Justice, it costs 50- $60,000 to incarcerate one inmate for one year in New York State. Shane Watson’s incarceration has cost NY taxpayers at least $1 million. Were it not for Mr. Watson’s wrongful conviction he would have been a taxpayer for the past 21 years. This one case from the Bronx represents an ethical, moral and financial nightmare.

Yes, DA Robert Johnson should know about Shane Watson.  The justice system has only as much integrity as its ability to correct its mistakes. In the words of our volunteer investigator, retired (Brooklyn) probation officer Doug Walters, “This is not a case of a witness misleading the authorities, but of the authorities willingly suborning a witness. The actions and inaction of the NYPD and the Bronx District Attorney in this case go far beyond negligence, and constitute actual malfeasance. The NYPD and Bronx District Attorney showed an obvious contempt for Shane Watson and his family by fabricating a case against him in order to lock him up for life. They showed a complete disregard for Mark Johnson and his family by treating his murder as merely an occasion for obtaining a false conviction with a base minimum of work. They showed a contempt for the professional standards which are supposed to govern everyone in the criminal justice system”.


Are you listening DA Johnson?




Will Duchon, Founder/Director
The Opus 30 Mission

April 4, 2015

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