Shaun Jenkins, who was freed in September after spending nearly 19 years in prison for a murder that he maintains he did not commit, was granted a new trial by a Suffolk Superior Court judge on Monday, following revelations of misconduct during the investigation and prosecution of his case, records show.
Recently uncovered files show a Boston police detective paid a key witness and prosecutors withheld evidence that could have pointed to another suspect in the 2001 murder of Stephen Jenkins, Shaun’s cousin, in Dorchester, according to a decision from Superior Court Justice Kenneth W. Salinger.
“Taken together, this misconduct deprived Jenkins of a fair trial,” Salinger wrote. “As a result, justice has not been done. The Court will therefore exercise its discretion to allow Jenkins’ renewed motion for a new trial and vacate his conviction and sentence for murder.”
It’s not yet known whether Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins will drop the murder charge against Jenkins, as she has in similar cases, but a spokeswoman for her office said a decision could be made as early as Tuesday.
Jenkins’s attorney, Lisa M. Kavanaugh, director of the Innocence Program at the Committee for Public Counsel Services, said she is hopeful Rollins will not pursue the case.
“What happens next is in DA Rollins’ hands, but I am cautiously optimistic that her powerful leadership in acknowledging and rectifying past wrongs by both the police and prosecution bodes well for my client and his decades long quest for justice,” Kavanaugh said in an e-mail.
In 2005, Jenkins was convicted for the murder after prosecutors showed that he and his cousin were fighting over territory where they sold illegal drugs. Prosecutors said Shaun Jenkins had a gun with the same caliber as the ammunition used in the murder of Stephen Jenkins.
Stephen Jenkins was found shot dead in the driver’s seat of a running Lincoln Town Car near Dorchester’s Ronan Park. No one witnessed the killing.
During the trial, Shaun Jenkins’s defense attempted to argue that the killer may have been Stephen Jenkins’s drug supplier, to whom he owed $3,000. Prosecutors objected, claiming there was no evidence that Stephen Jenkins was in debt to the supplier, and the judge sided with the prosecution.
“The Commonwealth’s contention that there was no evidence of a drug debt was false,” Salinger wrote.
In fact, prosecutors had identified the supplier and confirmed that Stephen Jenkins owed him for a large amount of drugs he had lost, Salinger wrote. Furthermore, prosecutors were aware that Stephen Jenkins called the supplier five times on the day he was murdered, up to the minutes before he was killed, and the supplier lived a short distance from the site where Stephen was murdered, Salinger wrote.
“Prosecutors did not disclose any of that information, however, even though they recognized that it created real doubt as to whether [Shaun] Jenkins was the killer — which is the very definition of exculpatory evidence that the Commonwealth must share with the defendant,” Salinger wrote.
In addition to misconduct by the prosecution, Salinger wrote that Boston police Sergeant Detective Daniel Keeler, who led the investigation, did not tell prosecutors he had “interviewed a key witness and later paid him $100 on the day he decided to waive his right to remain silent and testified to the grand jury.”
Boston police said they were reviewing the judge’s decision Monday evening.
Jenkins was convicted in April 2005 and sentenced to life in prison without parole. He lost appeals over the years, even after witnesses recanted and allegations emerged that Keeler paid witnesses.
Jenkins turned to Kavanaugh in 2019.
“I vividly remember taking a collect call from Shaun in early 2019, shortly after he had exhausted all possible appeals related to his last new trial motion,” Kavanaugh said. “In our call, I struggled to find hopeful words to say to him on that call, because I truly believed — in that moment — that there was nothing left for me to do, and he was going to die in prison.”
Kavanaugh took the case to Rollins’s new Integrity Review Bureau, which investigates wrongful conviction claims. She took advantage of the bureau’s “open discovery” process, which granted her access to the prosecution’s case file, where she found some of the withheld documents.
“My client spent nearly 19 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit because the police and past prosecutors were more interested in getting a conviction than in getting it right,” Kavanaugh said Monday.
Andrew Ryan of the Globe staff contributed to this report.