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Jan 07 2011

Mother’s Effort Gets 18 Year Old Conviction Overturned

Mama knows best and this Mother’s Day Louis Hairston owes his mother a big, big present.  She was able to get his manslaughter conviction overturned after she found evidence of prosecutorial misconduct during her investigation of her’s son’s conviction.

The 1992 killing in Mount Vernon appeared to have been triggered by a scuffle on a sidewalk between Mr. Hairston and two of his friends, and a man named Andre Frank and two of his friends. The two groups were at odds for an undisclosed reason. Witnesses testified at trial that Mr. Hairston pulled a handgun and shot Mr. Frank after the scuffle. Mr. Hairston alleged that he saw Mr. Frank pull out a rifle or shotgun during the scuffle and  that he shot Frank in self defense.  He was convicted and sentenced to 12 1/2 to 25 years in prison.

But his mother never gave trying to prove that her was  a second gun at the scene. She decided to file a Freedom of Information Act request for all the police documents in the case. Lo and behold, after pressing the Mt Vernon Police for the turnover of the records, she received nearly 60 pages of documents.  Sifting through them she found two reports that had never been turned over to the defense.  One report referred to a statement by an independent eyewitness named Herman Hardy that he and his niece Brenda Hardy had witnessed the shooting, as well as the presence of a second weapon, a rifle or a shotgun. In his discussions with detectives, Mr. Hardy revealed that the rifle had not been fired during the altercation, but that one of Mr. Frank’s friends had scooped it up and chased Mr. Hairston and his friends after the shooting. This established that the rifle was part of the Frank group supporting Mr. Hairston’s justification defense.

So maybe the prosecutor just missed it right? Maybe he didn’t see the report and that why the defense never found out about it. After all during summations, Westchester Assistant District Attorney George Bolen told jurors that:

there is absolutely no evidence on this record, any credible evidence, that any rifle or shotgun or any portion of any rifle or shotgun reared its ugly head before this defendant fired the gun when he did,”

He wouldn’t stand in front of a jury and say that if he knew about the report would he? Well, Ms. Hairston found a second report that stated that witness Herman Hardy had testified in the Grand Jury to this information! So the prosecutor had to know what Hardy had said when he told the jury there was no evidence of another gun. In pretrial proceedings, all the defense was told about Hardy was that he witnessed the incident.  The defense was never told he testified nor were they told the substance of his testimony. Now of course, Hairston’s defense lawyer was lazy or ineffective for not talking to everyone who was claimed to be an eyewitness to the crime.  But that does not excuse in any way the DA’s failure to tell them that Hardy testified before a Grand Jury. The defense would have been entitled to Hardy’s testimony transcript so they would learn exactly what he claimed he saw. Hardy’s testimony was also part of the packet of documents Mother Hairston acquired.

So the prosecutor knew a witness had testified before the Grand Jury and stated he saw a rifle or shotgun in the Frank group yet he withheld that evidence from the defense and withheld the witness’ transcript. Shameful. Bolen retired from the office in 2006.

In overturning the conviction, Judge Susan Capeci stated “This Court finds that under the circumstances presented here, the failure to disclose such evidence to the defense resulted in a reasonable possibility that the outcome would have been different.”  Bolen faces no punishment or ramifications from his conduct.

Hairston will likely not be tried again and will have his freedom and a damn good lawsuit against the County and the State but that will not compensate him for the years of his life that he needlessly lost to incarceration.  Congratulations to Ms. Hairston for never giving up and proving the wrongfulness of he son’s conviction.

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