QUEENS, New York City (WABC) -- A man who has been in prison for 32 years for a murder in Queens in 1989 had his conviction vacated Monday after newly discovered witnesses and evidence contradicted testimony used against him.
Carlton Roman, found guilty in the murder of Lloyd Witter and attempted murder of Jomo Kenyatta, had all charges dropped at the request of District Attorney Melinda Katz.
"I am committed to the fair administration of justice," Katz said. "In that pursuit, my office seeks to ensure that those who are guilty face appropriate consequences and those who have been wrongfully convicted are exonerated. Vacating Mr. Roman's conviction emphasizes the fact that although these cases are difficult and strenuous to investigate, my Conviction Integrity Unit will do everything it takes to ensure that the right and just result is reached."
Roman said the first thing he wanted to do upon gaining his freedom was hug his mother.
"I'm here, but there's a lot of people in there who need your help, who need your attention," he said. "I'm not the only innocent person in there."
Roman, who long proclaimed his innocence, took the opportunity to highlight the flaws he says exists within the court system. He said he's not angry a mistake was made, but he's not pleased it took more than 30 years to correct it."
"I have reasons to think he was always a good boy," his mother said. "And when this happened...I believed him that he didn't do it."
According to court records, on March 16, 1989, Witter and Kenyatta were shot multiple times at a home in Jamaica, Queens, resulting in Witter's death and Kenyatta's permanent confinement to a wheelchair.
Paul Anderson lived at the house and was found by the police outside, bound with telephone wire and handcuffed, and in close proximity to Witter's body.
Anderson and Kenyatta identified Roman, a close friend of Witter's, as one of the shooters and the ringleader of the group.
After his arrest, police found no forensic or ballistic evidence linking Roman, whose alibi was corroborated by his girlfriend, to the shooting.
There was also no DNA or fingerprint evidence implicating Roman, but he was tried, convicted and sentenced to 43 and 1/3 years for the crime based solely on the testimony of those two witnesses.
Roman, who at the time was a recent college graduate and honors student with no criminal record, testified at trial that he was not involved with the shooting.
He submitted his case for re-investigation to the Queens County District Attorney's Office in 2013 and 2018, but the convictions were left unchanged.
Katz's Conviction Integrity Unit began its investigation in April 2020 and uncovered new evidence that would have changed the outcome of the trial.
First, Anderson recanted in 2019 and said Roman was not one of the shooters and that he falsely accused Roman.
Anderson confirmed that Roman was not one of the assailants, and that he had not seen Roman at his house the entire day of the crime.
During the course of the initial police investigation and Conviction Integrity Unit investigation, Anderson provided at least six distinctly different versions of how the shooting occurred. Officials said most were inconsistent with each other and the facts of the crime.
Additionally, three new witnesses undermined the credibility of the trial testimony of Anderson and Kenyatta.
They include a retired police officer who received and documented Anderson's initial description of the shooters, none of which fit Roman. No testimony or evidence offered at trial by either party referenced these initial descriptions provided by Anderson.
Another new witness who was friends with Anderson, Kenyatta, and Roman described the narcotics activity of Anderson and Kenyatta, and Kenyatta's violent nature and profession as a drug boss, which provide substantial motive for others to have committed the crime.
The third new witness described the friendly relationship between the deceased victim and Roman and contradicted the trial testimony regarding statements supposedly made by Roman around the time of his arrest.
New evidence further undermined confidence in Kenyatta's testimony, indicating he falsely minimized his criminal history at trial and used various aliases to conceal his criminal activity.
To date, the Conviction Integrity Unit has vacated eight convictions in the less than two years since its inception.
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