No physical evidence connected Raymond Gaines to the 1974 Roxbury murder that sent him behind bars for 46 years.
Gaines’s conviction hinged on an eyewitness who initially identified other culprits and the word of a well-known Boston detective with a troubled history.
Now, 68-year-old Gaines is scheduled to return Thursday to Suffolk Superior Court with momentum in his quest for justice, just days after Judge Debra A. Squires-Lee threw out his murder conviction.
“I won’t be satisfied until this is behind me all the way,” said Gaines, who was freed from prison in April 2021 while the judge weighed his bid for a new trial. “Hopefully my name gets cleared at the end of it all.”
His case is one of a growing number of decades-old convictions that have been overturned as law enforcement tactics have come under increased scrutiny. In Boston since 2019, judges have thrown out murder and rape convictions against more than a dozen men, almost all of whom are Black and had been sentenced to life in prison.
In the last six months alone, judges have overturned four old murder convictions that involved Boston Police Detective Peter O’Malley, a controversial investigator who died in 2017.
O’Malley worked during a period in which “there were many flawed procedures” in law enforcement “that resulted in unjust convictions,” said Gaines’s attorney, Merritt Schnipper.
In the Gaines ruling, the judge last week cited a “highly suggestive” eyewitness identification process, evidence that was wrongly withheld by prosecutors, as well as records showing O’Malley had falsified evidence in other cases.
The judge also chastised trial prosecutors for pushing “irrelevant racially charged evidence” against a young Black man in an era of prevailing prejudice.
In a statement, the victim’s family said that while Gaines has been awarded a new trial, he has not been found innocent. The failures in the case identified by the judge has “now made our family victims twice, first with the loss of a loved family member, and now again as we are forced to relive that trauma,” the statement said. “All we wanted then, and all we want now is justice for Peter Sulfaro, with the right people in jail.”
Gaines’s fate will be determined by Suffolk District Attorney Kevin R. Hayden, who could retry the case or let it go.
Hayden’s office has filed a notice indicating it may appeal the judge’s ruling, although no decision has been made, according to the district attorney’s spokesman, James Borghesani.
Hayden’s office must also decide whether to dismiss another case from the 1970s tied to O’Malley. Last month, a judge tossed Milton Jones’s murder conviction, citing investigators “plainly suggestive” eyewitness identification procedures. And on Tuesday, Hayden’s office announced it was dropping a 1984 case against Floyd Hamilton, whose first-degree murder conviction had been overturned in October.
O’Malley helped investigate Hamilton’s case, which also led to the conviction of his co-defendant, Joseph Pope. The state’s highest court vacated Pope’s conviction in June, and Hayden’s office dropped the charges against him in October.
Gaines’s case dates to late 1974, when he was 20 years old and struggling to find his way. Gaines was shot in both legs during what the judge called a “racial disturbance” at a Marvin Gaye concert.
“From that point on, my life spun out of orbit,” Gaines said. “I was salvageable.”
Gaines said he traveled to Iowa to meet his birth mother on Dec. 8, 1974, just a few days after getting out of the hospital with gunshot wounds.
Two days later, three men walked into a shoe repair shop in Roxbury. Two pulled guns during the robbery and shot the owner, Peter Sulfaro, to death in front of his 15-year-old son.
A witness told police that the three suspects ran to an apartment building where, police said, a man named David Bass ran a “shooting gallery” for people to inject drugs. In the building, police found Bass’s stepson, Antonio Daniels, and one of his best friend’s, Alfred Hamilton, records show.
The shoe store owner’s son later identified Daniels and Alfred Hamilton in photographs — each were arrested and charged with murder.
Bass went to police and implicated Gaines and two other men in the killing. In a little more than a week, the charges against Daniels and Alfred Hamilton were dropped. A detective called the shoe store owner’s son and told him that he had identified the wrong men, according to court records.
Detectives O’Malley and Lewis McConkey went back to the store owner’s son with the same set of photographs, and instead of the original suspects, included pictures of Gaines and two others. Police said this time the store owner’s son identified Gaines and another suspect.
O’Malley and other detectives flew to Iowa to arrest Gaines. O’Malley alleged that Gaines confessed to the crime on the flight back to Boston, records show.
In June 1976, a jury convicted Gaines of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison. Gaines’s co-defendant, Jerry Funderberg, was also convicted and later died in prison. A third man, Robert Anderson, was tried separately, convicted, and remains in prison.
In vacating Gaines’s conviction last week, the judge noted several problems with the case, citing scientific findings that cast doubt on the reliability of eyewitness testimony. The judge also noted that prosecutors withheld evidence for more than 25 years that showed a key eyewitnesses recanted testimony implicating Gaines.
Bass, who allegedly ran the drug shooting gallery, wrote in a 1990 affidavit that he lied and conspired with police to protect him and his family. “Police agreed to keep me out of jail,” Bass wrote.
Prosecutors also failed to disclose to Gaines’s attorneys that O’Malley had arrested Bass shortly before the trial and Bass had a charge pending when he took the stand.
In overturning Gaines’s conviction, the judge wrote that the wrongly withheld evidence supported Bass’s claim that he colluded with police. She also cited evidence that O’Malley “falsified evidence in other cases,” including in 1974 when he was disciplined by Boston Police for falsifying a police report.
O’Malley also came under fire by federal investigators, who found that he pressured witnesses to give false testimony in 1989 in the Charles Stuart case. Stuart, who was white, blamed the killing of his pregnant wife, Carol DiMaiti Stuart, on a Black man, a claim that led to a police dragnet and increased racial tensions in the city. In fact, Stuart, had shot and killed his wife.
Though the overturned conviction is a major victory for Gaines, he said he is along way from closure. He knows his case could drag on for months or even years. And he continues to grapple with the devastating impact of 46 years behind bars, while working to rebuild his life.
“I can look in the mirror and still feel good about the image that I see staring back at me,” Gaines said. “At the core of who I am, I’ve always been a good person. I’ve just been a troubled person who got caught up in bad circumstances.”