Ronnie D. Qualls raised his arms triumphantly Wednesday after both prosecutors and his defense attorney asked a Suffolk Superior Court judge to release him from prison in light of new DNA testing that cast doubt on his ties to a 1992 double murder in Roxbury.
Qualls, 48, has twice been convicted of first-degree murder in the deaths of Roosevelt “Tony” Price and his brother, Ronald “Dallas” Price. The state’s highest court has twice upheld those convictions.
Now both Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins’s office and the defense agree Qualls’s convictions should be dismissed because of DNA testing of bloodstains on a sweat shirt worn by another man whom a dying Roosevelt Price identified as the killer.
“This is a somewhat unusual proceeding where the Commonwealth is joining in all of the defense pleadings,'' Superior Court Judge Christine M. Roach said. She added that Rollins’s office needed to tell her and the public why prosecutors believed a man serving two life without parole sentences for murder should be freed.
Suffolk Assistant District Attorney David A. F. Lewis, chief of Rollins’s Integrity Review Bureau, told Roach that Roosevelt Price identified his killer as Junior Williams, and that Boston police stopped Williams two hours after the murders and found bloodstains on the sweat shirt Williams was wearing. Forensic testing in the 1990s showed only that it was Type B blood.
DNA testing now has proven that Roosevelt Price’s blood was on the sweat shirt that police seized on Oct. 3, 1992.
“As I understand it, the position is that the Boston Police Department and the district attorney’s office of Suffolk County got the wrong guy,'' Roach said from the bench.
“Right,” Lewis said.
“They were supposed to get Williams and instead they got Qualls,” the judge said. “There are allegations of an ineffective investigation or police misconduct hovering in the background here.”
Lewis said the Price brothers were murdered as they sat in a car when a lone gunman fired through a rear window at the driver and then walked around to the passenger side and shot into the passenger seat before walking away. A Ford Escort was seen driving away from the shooting scene, records show. Qualls and Williams had feuded with the Price brothers inside the now-closed Biarittz lounge before the murders, according to court records.
But, according to Lewis and court records, only Williams had Roosevelt Price’s blood on his clothing and only Williams drove a Ford Escort.
Williams, who was charged with being an accessory to manslaughter, was released after serving six years in prison. Roach said she wanted to learn more about what happened to the Williams prosecution before issuing her ruling.
The District Attorney’s Office said it was evaluating all of its options regarding Williams.
Charlotte H. Whitmore, Qualls’s attorney from the Boston College Innocence Program, told the judge that under Massachusetts law, the judge does not have to conclude that the DNA testing fully exonerates Qualls. Instead, she must only decide whether the DNA evidence would have substantially influenced the jury in reaching a verdict, regardless of whether jurors would have convicted or acquitted him.
Qualls’ mother, Yvette Qualls, was among 11 relatives and friends who attended the hearing. It was she who steadfastly believed in her son’s innocence and who reached out to the BC law program for assistance.
"I always had faith in God that he would direct me,'' Yvette Qualls said after the hearing.
Ronnie plans to visit the graves of his father and a brother, she said. After that, “He doesn’t want to stay in Massachusetts."