The State of Connecticut has awarded $4.2 million each in compensation to Carlos Ashe, Darcus Henry, Sean Adams, and Johnny Johnson. The four were convicted of murder, assault, and conspiracy resulting from a December 14, 1996, shooting in New Haven, Connecticut. Jason Smith, 23, was killed and brothers Marvin Ogman, 19, and Andre Clark, 22, were injured when allegedly four men utilized semi-automatic weapons in a gang-related retaliation shooting. Including both jail and prison, the four were incarcerated for more than 16 years.
The defendants presented alibi witnesses at trial. The primary evidence presented by the prosecution was inconsistent testimony of the surviving victims. Henry and Adams were convicted in December 1999. The juries deadlocked in the trials of Ashe and Johnson, but they were retried and convicted in 2000 and 2001 respectively. The four men’s sentences differed within the range of 75 to 100 years.
Adams’ conviction was upheld on appeal. He then filed a state petition for a writ of habeas corpus in which he claimed that the prosecution had neglected to reveal a deal to reward Andre Clark for his testimony. Clark had testified that he had no deal, and the prosecutor, James G. Clark, did not correct this claim.
Andre Clark was facing drug and weapons charges that could have resulted in a sentence of 35 years. Following his testimony, he was convicted of reduced charges and sentenced to 4 years. While the prosecutor acknowledged he should have revealed that Clark lied in his trial testimony, he argued that this revelation would not have changed the jury’s decision.
In 2011, the Connecticut Appellate Court disagreed. The Court reversed Adams’ conviction ruling that he had been denied a fair trial. In 2013 the Connecticut Supreme Court upheld this decision. On July 25, 2013, the prosecution dismissed the case not only of Adams but also those of Ashe, Henry, and Johnson, and the men were released from prison.
Following a formal hearing in which the men testified regarding their trial and prison experiences and the impact these had on their lives and that of their families, J. Paul Vance, Jr., Claims Commissioner of the State of Connecticut, released his Memorandum of Decision on January 15, 2016. The decision confirmed that the claimants had met all six requirements of compensation in the state, namely that “Claimants (1) were convicted of crimes, (2) are innocent of crimes, (3) were sentenced to prison, (4) served a part of that sentence and (5) has the conviction vacated.” On the sixth requirement regarding innocence, the Commissioner ruled that the evidence supported dismissing the charges “on grounds consistent with innocence.”
Official misconduct is a factor in compensations in the state of Connecticut. Referencing that the Connecticut Supreme Court’s ruling had called the actions of prosecutors in the four Claimants’ trials as “indefensible” the Commissioner ordered immediate payment of $4.2 million each to the law firm of the four men.
The compensation was based on the following:
Loss of Liberty and Enjoyment of Life: $2,400,000.00
Loss of Earnings and Future Earning Capacity: $1,100,000.00
Loss of Reputation: $ 200,000.00
Physical and Mental Injuries: $ 100,000.00
Costs, Legal Fees and Expenses $ 200,000.00
Misconduct $ 200,000.00
TOTAL: $ 4,200,000.00
“The quest for a conviction cannot outweigh the Constitutional rights of an accused,” wrote the Commissioner.
This article relied upon a number of sources, especially the case report of the four men by Maurice Possley on The National Registry of Exonerations (here), (here), (here) and (here) and the New Haven Register News with the Commissioner’s complete Memorandum of Decision Order (here).