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He says he’s ready to put his life in a jury’s hands again. But Joey Bennett should be home to stay.

Joseph Bennett spoke during a Live Facebook roundtable discussion at Restaurante Cesaria in Roxbury in 2021.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Joey Bennett is free, but not cleared. It is a strange, and deeply unjust, place he finds himself in.

He’s awaiting a new trial on a second-degree murder conviction dating back to a 1996 shooting in a Mattapan nightclub.

It is a trial, I believe, which should never take place.

Bennett served 22 years before being granted a new trial.

He says he is ready to put his life in a jury’s hands again, if he has to, and will not seek or accept a plea deal.

“I’m not saying I’m guilty of something I’m not guilty of,” Bennett told me in a recent interview.


Bennett, 48, was released from prison in 2019 when a judge approved his motion for a new trial. But the state plans to retry him in 2023, according to a spokesman for the Suffolk DA’s office.

Bennett was convicted in the shooting of Jasper Gillard in the Rolls Club in Mattapan. There was a fight in the packed club at closing time. A single eyewitness identified Bennett as the shooter. It wasn’t a particularly strong case, even then.

And in the years since, it has unraveled. The eyewitness recanted his testimony years ago. A parade of people who were in the club insist that Bennett was outside at the time of the shooting. Multiple witnesses have identified another man, now deceased, as the actual shooter.

Yet Bennett is awaiting trial. It’s a travesty.

If the Bennett name rings a bell, here’s why. Bennett is the nephew of Willie Bennett, the man who narrowly escaped being charged in the notorious murder of Carol DiMaiti Stuart in 1989, in a case that shook Boston to its core and split the city along racial lines.

Joey Bennett was a teenager then, but his family connection to the Stuart case has followed him ever since. His uncle was arrested on the strength of bogus evidence by a police force that desperately needed to solve the crime. Even after the real killer — Carol DiMaiti Stuart’s husband — was identified, some on the force clung to the notion that the arrest was warranted.


Now, Joey Bennett believes his family ties — and decades of lingering resentment on the part of police and prosecutors — are at the core of law enforcement’s refusal to exonerate him.

“I’m a Bennett,” he told me. “They’re not going to admit they did something wrong to another Bennett. We have a generational curse for the Boston police that dislikes us, you know.”

Joey Bennett is not just a relative of Willie Bennett’s. They are as close as an uncle and nephew can be, even now as the elder Bennett copes with serious health issues

The core of the prosecution case is that ballistics evidence ties the gun used in the Rolls Club murder to another, nonfatal shooting Bennett was implicated in days earlier.

But illegal guns have been known to pass through many hands. Having had one’s hands on a gun on Tuesday means little by Saturday. It’s certainly not much on which to hang a murder case. And at this point that is pretty much the substance of the case. To call it thin would be an understatement.

Joey Bennett spent years behind bars seeking to clear his name. He wrote letters to members of the media. He wrote to lawyers, seeking representation. He filed new motions as he discovered witnesses who had never been contacted, or who had not been willing to say what they had seen — or not seen — that night.


He struck gold when one of his letters landed in the mailbox of Jennifer O’Brien, a defense lawyer with a keen interest in exonerating the wrongly accused.

From her first visit with him in state prison, she was willing to dive in. She even recruited her father to act as investigator, searching in Dorchester and Mattapan for witnesses.

They discovered four new witnesses. Then six. Then 13.

“I’m kind of a pessimist,” O’Brien said. “But after talking to witness after witness, I was convinced he didn’t do it.”

O’Brien always found it odd that a shooting in a crowded club had just one eyewitness. But this was in the heyday of “no snitching” when potential witnesses — many with their own past entanglements with law enforcement — weren’t in any hurry to be witnesses.

The passage of time may have made some witnesses more willing to talk. Also, Bennett and O’Brien have aggressively used social media to track down people with memories of that night. His original trial lawyer submitted an affidavit admitting that he did not talk to all of the witnesses the prosecution was relying on, as he should have.

O’Brien said she was shocked that Bennett’s two earlier pleas for a new trial had gotten so little traction.


“You have all these people saying he didn’t do it,” she said. “How do you just say ‘tough’?”

Bennett was released on April 20, 2019. That’s a special date in his family — the anniversary of the death of his grandmother, Willie Bennett’s mother. He firmly believes she intervened in his release. By then, he had been incarcerated for 22 years.

Since his release on probation, Joey Bennett has exceeded all expectations. Virtually all conditions of his release have been removed. He has a full-time job, working for the city of Boston.

Most important, he runs a foundation, YardTime Entertainment, to help other returning convicts make the adjustment to freedom. He regularly meets with these men in the basement of the Tobin Community Center in Mission Hill where they lend one another support. It is work that is close to Joey Bennett’s heart.

“I’m not a therapist, you know?” he said. “But because we’re in a group, I don’t have to feel the pressure of having to have all the answers. There’s always other people going through what someone is going through.”

No date has been set for Bennett’s next trial. He and O’Brien insist they are ready to go now.

But they shouldn’t have to. What justice would look like in this case is obvious.

Joey Bennett should be home for good.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at adrian.walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.