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Saturday, September 19, 2020

The Day – The state supreme court overturns the 1995 New London murder conviction


The State Supreme Court issued an opinion Monday reversing the sentencing of a New London man who is serving a 50-year sentence for his role in the 1995 murder of 18-year-old Darrell Wattley Jr.

The June 29 opinion in the case of Jamie R. Gomez decisively addresses, for the Connecticut courts, the question of whether prosecutors should correct misstatements made by witnesses during trials.

The court ordered a new trial for Gomez, who was 22 years old when, according to court documents and news reports, he accompanied Anthony Booth, Danny Brown and James “Tiny” Smith, all 20 Love Gang members, at 93 State Pier Road on July 13, 1995.

Wattley was shot four times, stabbed four times and cut his throat.

The ruling in Gomez’s case could have implications for Booth and Brown, who were tried and convicted by Gomez’s jury itself. Both men have been denied the appeal and are serving sentences of 60 and 55 years respectively.

In the Gomez case, five members of the Supreme Court voted unanimously and Judge Christine S. Vertefeuille wrote the decision indicating that Gomez’s rights to the fair trial were violated because the public prosecutor, Paul Murray, who has since been retired, he did not notify the jury that two key witnesses had provided false or misleading testimony.

Smith, who had faced his murder charges, and Angeline Valentin, accused as an accessory to the first degree assault because she had warned the men that Wattley would be in her apartment that night, had agreed to testify for the state in exchange for clemency with their own expenses.

But when questioned during the trial, both Smith and Valentin said they had promised nothing. Although defense attorneys contested their statements during a cross-examination, the Supreme Court ruling indicates that prosecutors have a duty to correct such problems even if defense attorneys are aware of them. Murray did not do so during his final discussion with the jury, according to court documents.

New London State prosecutor Michael L. Regan said his office and chief prosecutor are reviewing the decision and could not comment further. The state has several options, including an appeal to the United States Supreme Court, an attempt to negotiate a plea bargain with Wattley on the basis of the ruling or the new trial, which could prove difficult due to the passage of time.

According to The Day archives, the men were taking revenge on Wattley for attacking Smith at a party the week before.

Gomez, who is now 47 and serving a sentence at Suffield’s MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution, has grown and matured since 1995, according to his attorney Andrew P. O’Shea.

“He’s an exceptional guy, an exceptional client,” said O’Shea. “He has been so patient throughout the whole process and is overwhelmed by this result.”

O’Shea said there remains a question as to who actually shot Wattley. Court records indicate that it was Brown who stabbed Wattley after they were shot, then he boasted that he also robbed Wattley. Gomez drove all the men out of the scene into his girlfriend’s car.

Both Valentin and Smith received consideration for their testimony. Valentin was released with a written promise to appear and allowed him to move to New Jersey while his case was ongoing. The final disposition of your case is not available.

Murray recommended a 10-year sentence for Smith and eventually received a 15-month sentence for second-degree manslaughter.

U.S. Supreme Court rulings clearly state that the state cannot knowingly present false testimony, but different decisions across the country have taken different paths, according to O’Shea. He said the Gomez ruling sets a precedent because the court has clearly addressed the matter.

“This problem of knowledge of false testimony has emerged more and more and the court, to its credit, has resolved it consciously and has taken steps to deal with it,” said O’Shea.

Gomez’s decision notes that “defense attorneys share an obligation to ensure that the trial is not contaminated with evidence that falsely incriminates the accused” but, ultimately, the prosecutor is best placed to eliminate any harm that is done. .

The victim’s mother, Bernice Foy, died in 2012, but survived several siblings. Wattley’s older sister, Andrean Goode-Ward, said on the phone Wednesday that he did not forgive Gomez for his role in his brother’s death, noting that even if he hadn’t been the shooter, he should have helped his brother.

Their families were close, said Goode-Warde, and Bernice Foy had named one of his daughters as Gomez’s mother, Iris. He said it might feel different if Gomez ever showed remorse.

“Have you served enough time? No,” he said on the phone. “Maybe not the whole 50-year sentence, but not now.”

k.florin@theday.com

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