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Prosecutors drop case against man who spent 41 years in prison for murder

John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins dropped murder charges this week against a Boston man who was wrongfully imprisoned for nearly 41 years.

James Watson, 61, was released this spring following revelations of police and prosecutorial misconduct. A Suffolk Superior judge vacated his sentence earlier this month and Rollins’s office formally dropped the case against him Tuesday.

Watson was convicted in 1984 of killing 28-year-old Boston cab driver Jeffrey S. Boyajian. His attorneys argued that the case hinged on a witness who identified him under hypnosis, a practice that has since been discredited. Attorneys also noted that prosecutors in the case held back evidence about the police identification of Watson.


“It is impossible to undo the intergenerational trauma that this wrongful conviction inflicted on Mr. Watson and his family," his attorney, Madeline Blanchette, said. "But his exoneration now means that there is still opportunity for healing,”

In dismissing the charges, Rollins’s office cited an extensive review by its Integrity Review Bureau, which concluded “the interests of justice would not be served by prosecution of this case."

“The case relied on hypnosis of eyewitnesses. That, coupled with legitimate claims of ineffective counsel regarding the timeline of events and the admission of unreliable evidence, makes me believe that Mr. Watson did not receive a fair trial,” Rollins said in a released statement.

Watson has stayed with family members since his release in April. After decades in prison, he’s hoping for a quiet life, Blanchette said, but remains worried that he might be arrested again — for no reason.

“His confidence that he has the right to live quietly as a law-abiding citizen is shaken,” she said. “Given what he’s been through, I don’t think you can get that genie back in a bottle.”

Watson’s attorneys said he hopes to spend more time with his adult son, who was 15 months old when his father was sent to prison.


Watson’s co-defendant, Frederick Clay, 57, has also been exonerated and freed from prison. He made news earlier this week when the Globe revealed the city had agreed to pay Clay $3.1 million, the city’s largest settlement in years for police misconduct.

Watson’s attorneys said they expect he will also pursue litigation for his wrongful conviction.

The men were teenagers when they were arrested. Clay spent 38 years behind bars before a Suffolk Superior Court judge vacated his conviction in 2017. He sued the state for wrongful conviction after his release. Massachusetts paid him $1 million, the maximum allowed by state law.

Vernal Coleman can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @vernalcoleman.