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Judge throws out 1992 double murder convictions after Suffolk DA says wrong man was imprisoned

Ronald D. Qualls (right) has been locked up since at least Nov. 10, 1992, for the murders of two brothers in Roxbury, but a judge has now vacated the convictions.
Ronald D. Qualls (right) has been locked up since at least Nov. 10, 1992, for the murders of two brothers in Roxbury, but a judge has now vacated the convictions.Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe

A judge has vacated the double murder convictions that sent Ronald D. Qualls to prison for life after the Suffolk district attorney’s office concluded that another man, released by Boston police two hours after the murders, was likely the actual killer.

Qualls was twice convicted for the 1992 murders of brothers Roosevelt “Tony” Price and Ronald “Dallas” Price, who were killed by a lone gunman while sitting in a car near a Roxbury nightspot where they had earlier argued with Qualls and a second man, Junior Williams, according to court records.

But prosecutors joined the Boston College Innocence Program in arguing that his convictions should be voided based on newly discovered evidence. “The only issue at trial was the gunman’s identity,” a joint motion stated. “Before he died, [Roosevelt Price] told multiple police officers that the shooter was a man named Junior Williams.”

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When he was stopped by police after the murders, Williams was wearing a sweatshirt stained with what detectives believed was blood, the motion stated. Police seized the sweatshirt, but released Williams.

“Despite the existence of a dying declaration identifying him as the shooter, the Boston police allowed Williams to go home later that day,” the motion stated.

Police turned their attention to Qualls and eventually built a case that relied on “identifications by eyewitnesses who had lengthy criminal records and pending cases," according to the motion. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated Qualls’s convictions in 1997, but he was retried and convicted again, a decision the SJC affirmed in 2003.

In 1992, forensic testing determined that the blood on Williams’s sweatshirt was type B — the same as Williams’s and the Price brothers'. The fact that it could have been Williams’s own blood undermined Qualls’s defense.

But subsequent DNA testing showed that the "multiple drops of blood on Junior Williams’ sweatshirt contain a major DNA profile that matches Roosevelt ‘Tony’ Price . . . the only plausible explanation for how Tony’s blood landed on Williams’ sweatshirt was if Williams was standing in close proximity to Tony during the shooting,'' the motion stated.

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“A jury that heard scientific proof that Tony Price’s DNA was on Junior Williams’ sweatshirt would likely credit Tony’s dying declaration that Junior Williams shot him.”

Williams was charged with being an accessory to manslaughter and was released after serving six years in prison. He has never been charged with the murders of the Price brothers.

Suffolk Superior Court Judge Christine M. Roach vacated the convictions but did not grant Qualls his release from MCI-Concord. She did not provide a written explanation. Qualls has indicated he wants to move to North Carolina or Georgia upon his release.

Qualls has been in custody since at least Nov. 10, 1992.

Sharon Beckman, director of the Boston College Innocence Program, reacted to the decision Tuesday.

“We’re thrilled for Mr. Qualls," she said in a brief interview by phone. But since the case is ongoing, she added, "We can’t comment further at this time.”

Earlier this month Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins’s officesaid it was investigating itsoptions and declined to comment.

Danny McDonald of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.