Brooklyn District Attorney Moves to Vacate Conviction of Brooklyn Man Who Served 23 Years for Homicide in Case of Mistaken Identity


Thursday, May 16, 2024

Brooklyn District Attorney Moves to Vacate Conviction of Brooklyn

Man Who Served 23 Years for Homicide in Case of Mistaken Identity

Identification Procedure for the Sole Eyewitness Was Improper;

The Probable Real Culprit Had Implicated Himself on Secret Recordings

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez today announced that following a thorough reinvestigation by his Conviction Review Unit (CRU), he will move to vacate the conviction of Steven Carrington, 56, who was convicted of participating in a botched robbery of an East Flatbush lumberyard in 1995, where an employee was fatally shot. He served over 23 years in prison and was released in 2018. The reinvestigation found that Mr. Carrington did not commit the crime. The identification by the sole eyewitness, a customer who was a stranger to the defendant and saw him fleetingly, was not tested for reliability and should never have been admitted at trial. In addition, the CRU identified another person, who had implicated himself in a couple of surreptitious recordings, as the likely real accomplice to the fatal robbery. The CRU report is available here.

District Attorney Gonzalez said, “A full investigation by my Conviction Review Unit concluded that this was a case of mistaken identity, where numerous red flags were ignored both before and after Mr. Carrington’s conviction. This case exemplifies the pitfalls of one witness identifications and highlights the lengths our CRU will go to unearth the truth. Mr. Carrington has proclaimed his innocence from Day One and, while we cannot undo the decades he spent in prison, today we are able to substantiate his claim and give him back his good name.”

The defendant will appear in court today at 2:15 p.m. before Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Matthew D’Emic at 320 Jay Street, 15th Floor.

The District Attorney said that on January 2, 1995, at about 10:50 a.m., a man named Shannon France, armed with a gun, entered Lumber Headquarters on Church Avenue in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. After a struggle, he twice shot an employee, Lloyd St. George Campbell, killing him. He robbed the store’s cash box and told a customer to leave. But that man was held up by an accomplice – later identified as Carrington – who took his Seiko gold-colored watch and a pinky ring, before the two robbers fled.

The defendant was convicted, based on the testimony of the customer, of second-degree murder (for acting in concert with France) and of robbery and was sentenced to 23 years to life in prison. France was convicted of similar charges and sentenced to 25 years to life (he was released in 2021 and deported).

When the defendant was first interviewed by police, he stated that it was a case of mistaken identity. At trial, he put forth an alibi defense, claiming he was at home with his former girlfriend that morning, when he got a call from his wife that she had taken their young child to the hospital. She asked him to come there, and he did. The two women, the defendant, and his parents all testified to that, but prosecutors were able to rebut the claim by showing inconsistencies with the timeline they provided.

The CRU’s investigation uncovered a serious problem with the identification of the defendant. Both the customer and another employee who was outside the store in the lumberyard identified the defendant in a photo array. During a pre-trial hearing to determine whether the procedure was improperly suggestive, it came out that three of the fillers were used in another array shown to the employee two days earlier (of a different suspect whom he didn’t identify). The judge ordered another hearing for the employee to decide whether his observations provided an independent basis for the ID. (Unlike the customer, the employee didn’t identify the defendant in a lineup, so he wasn’t called to testify, and that second hearing never took place). When asked by the hearing judge if the customer also viewed the earlier array, both his lawyer and the prosecutor said that he did not. The judge ruled that the photographic array procedure wasn’t suggestive.

A thorough review of police reports led the CRU to establish that the customer did, in fact, view the earlier array and therefore, by process of elimination, picked out the defendant from only three photos, instead of six. Had the judge ordered an independent source hearing for him as well, the fact that the traumatized customer initially gave a general description of a stocky black man would have likely precluded him from identifying defendant at trial, leaving prosecutors without adequate evidence to prove the case. At trial, the lead detective testified that both witnesses viewed both arrays, and the police reports confirming that were available to all sides, but no one alerted the new trial judge about the hearing judge’s mistaken ruling.

A few years after the conviction, the defendant provided a name of the person who allegedly committed the robbery with France. The DA’s Office investigated that claim but concluded that that person was incarcerated at the time of the crime. However, the CRU was able to discover that he was actually on a 14-week work release program that ended two days after the murder, wherein he was furloughed six days a week and likely residing in his neighborhood of East Flatbush.

In addition, the CRU was provided with two recordings of this alternative suspect. One was a mini cassette recording of a barely audible phone conversation from 1999 that was likely recorded by the defendant’s mother, with France on the line from prison. In it, the alternative suspect mentioned the lumberyard, said “we messed up,” and described the Seiko watch as not being made of gold and the small pinky ring – details that were not known to the public. The second was a videotape from the same year, where that person was coaxed into sharing details about the incident and at some point said, “I don’t feel good. I always think about it,” and acknowledged that the wrong man was imprisoned for the crime.

The CRU also interviewed a man who was inside a pharmacy across the street from the lumberyard and claimed that the alternate suspect was France’s true accomplice – recalling that he would see him in the neighborhood around that time and watched him flee the lumberyard at the time of the murder. Finally, in a 2012 affidavit and in subsequent parole hearings, France took responsibility for his role and repeatedly stated the defendant was not involved.

For these reasons, particularly the flawed identification procedure that was compounded by errors from the hearing judge, the prosecutor, and defense counsel, the CRU recommended that Carrington’s conviction should be vacated, and his indictment dismissed. Subsequently, the office investigated the possibility of charging the alternative suspect. Regrettably, legal hurdles unique to prosecuting a crime that occurred nearly three decades ago and for which another individual was convicted at trial render prosecution of the that suspect unviable.

To date, the work of the Conviction Review Unit has resulted in 38 convictions being vacated since 2014. Currently, CRU has approximately 60 open investigations.

This case was investigated by Assistant District Attorney and CRU Editor-in-Chief, Lori Glachman, under the supervision of Charles Linehan, Unit Chief.