Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins has dropped the murder case against Shaun Jenkins, who spent nearly 19 years in prison after being convicted in his cousin’s murder and was released in September following revelations of misconduct during the investigation and prosecution of his case, according to court records.
Rollins made it official in a filing in Suffolk Superior Court on Wednesday, dismissing the indictment against Jenkins that stemmed from the 2001 murder of his cousin, Stephen Jenkins, in Dorchester.
Jenkins has long maintained that he is innocent in his cousin’s death.
Recently uncovered files show a Boston police detective paid a key witness $100 and prosecutors withheld evidence that could have pointed to another suspect, according to a decision from Superior Court Justice Kenneth W. Salinger on Monday when he granted Jenkins’ motion for a new trial.
In that decision, Salinger wrote that misconduct by the detective and prosecutors “deprived Jenkins of a fair trial.”
Rollins agreed. Her office had supported Jenkins’s motion for a new trial after the evidence of misconduct came to light.
“It is clear that justice was not done here,” Rollins said in a statement Wednesday night. “When there is misconduct and/or material errors are made by law enforcement, including a prosecutor, we must always correct those errors. That is a vitally important part of building trust back into the criminal legal system. By admitting when we make mistakes or get it wrong, and then working hard to make it right, we actually gain credibility.”
Jenkins’s lawyer, Lisa M. Kavanaugh, director of the Innocence Program at the Committee for Public Counsel Services, had brought the case to Rollins’s Integrity Review Bureau, which investigates wrongful conviction claims. Kavanaugh 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.
Kavanaugh could not be reached for comment Wednesday night, and the Boston Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Shaun Jenkins was convicted in 2005 and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole after prosecutors showed that he had beaten up his cousin, with whom he was apparently feuding over territory for selling drugs, the day before he was killed.
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.
It turned out that prosecutors had in fact identified the supplier and confirmed that Stephen Jenkins owed him a large sum of money for drugs he had lost, Salinger wrote in his order for a new trial. In addition, prosecutors were aware that Stephen Jenkins had called the supplier several times on the day of his murder. The drug supplier also lived a short distance from Ronan Park, where 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.
Salinger wrote that information such as this is “the very definition of exculpatory evidence that the Commonwealth must share with the defendant.” He went on to write that police “failed to investigate two other likely suspects.”
In her statement, Rollins said these revelations are too much for her office to defend.
“Although these errors and misconduct happened decades ago, we are experiencing the aftermath and ripple effects of the bad behavior in the present,” she said. “I am deeply disappointed with what we found during our investigation, but proud that we searched for the truth and did what was right when we found it.”
Jenkins’s case is the latest in a line of convictions that have been overturned due to wrongdoing or injustice by police and prosecutors in years past. Rollins’s Integrity Review Board is the driving force behind many of those cases.
Since 2020, judges have released at least nine men from prison because of Boston police or prosecutorial misconduct, shoddy investigations, or evidence that pointed to someone else. The men, almost all of whom are Black, had each served two decades or more and faced sentences as long as life.
Andrew Ryan of the Globe staff contributed to this report.