For Barry Kamara there was finally a happy ending — only after the 32 years he had to live with being branded a murderer, 16 of those years spent in prison.
At a Tuesday hearing, Suffolk Superior Court Judge James Lang made it official, overturning the 1992 conviction that had changed Kamara’s life when he was just 17.
The prosecutor and the Boston police detective who investigated and put together the case that sent Kamara to prison had so tilted the scales of justice three decades ago that justice was indeed denied the then-teenager.
Both men implicated in this miscarriage of justice are dead now, but what about their other potential victims? Who will fight their battles? And isn’t it time for Suffolk District Attorney Kevin Hayden to undertake a systemic review at the very least of cases tainted by the participation of former Suffolk assistant district attorney James Larkin and former Boston police sergeant detective Daniel Flynn?
Globe reporters have identified at least 10 homicide cases from the early 1990s investigated by Flynn.
In the Kamara case, prosecutors now acknowledge that Larkin and Flynn withheld evidence that pointed to other suspects in the case, including a phone message from the victim’s mother identifying another suspect. Larkin was also cited in court records for repeatedly ignoring a judge’s order barring him from branding Kamara — without evidence — as a gang member.
It wasn’t the only time Larkin and Flynn worked together on a case that would later result in a wrongful conviction — the pair also worked on the case of Robert Foxworth, accused of a 1991 murder at the age of 23. That case included the use of a photo array in which Foxworth was the only one with a ponytail (after police told the witness the suspect had a ponytail) and efforts to intimidate a 15-year-old eyewitness by threatening to take him into custody.
Foxworth, who was exonerated in 2021, filed a complaint last fall with the Board of Bar Overseers accusing yet another Suffolk County prosecutor, Mark Lee, of withholding evidence of his innocence obtained during an interview with a federal informant back in 2007. Lee has been suspended with pay by Hayden pending that investigation. Foxworth charges Lee cost him an additional 12 years of life behind bars.
In a statement released by his office following the Kamara hearing, Hayden said, “I’m proud of the work the Integrity Review Bureau did after it received the petition. We will not defend improper trial procedures and we will not tolerate prosecutors breaking rules to secure convictions.”
But what comes next?
Back in 2021, then-Suffolk district attorney Rachael Rollins, who is now US Attorney, told the Globe that when it came to shoddy police work being investigated by her Integrity Review Bureau some officers names came up “too many times for me to believe it’s a coincidence.”
At least nine men were eventually released from prison as a result of her healthy skepticism about the police work and the prosecutions that stemmed from it.
Amy Belger, attorney for both Kamara and Foxworth, told the Globe that the convictions of the two men based on “shaky witness identifications that improved over time” and evidence withheld from the defense “establishes a pattern of systemic misconduct.”
She’d like to see an equally systemic review of cases handled by the two men in question.
Hayden’s office hasn’t said yes or no to the idea of a systemic review, but, a spokesman for Hayden said, “we are encouraging everyone to notify us through our Integrity Review Bureau” of instances of possible misconduct “and we hope they will do that.”
The real caveat, however, is that the IRB has only three prosecutors on its staff and currently has a dozen cases under review and another 35 in the screening process. And with a COVID-related backlog of current cases, it’s hardly the time to shuffle personnel.
Clearly the IRB is a part of the DA’s operation that could use beefing up and that would mean convincing the Legislature that additional funds are needed not just to keep up with current caseloads but to deal with injustices of the past.
A working group convened in 2021 by the Massachusetts Bar Association — which included two district attorneys — looked at best practices for Integrity Review Bureaus, which included maintaining a list of “problematic actors” which “may trigger review of other cases involving these same actors.”
Surely Larkin and Flynn have earned their spots on a list like that. But sadly they’ll have company from those whose service dated back to a time this city would rather not repeat when Black men were routinely rounded up for crimes they didn’t commit. Undoing those past wrongs — and preventing new ones — requires more resources than the state currently devotes to them. And that should be everyone’s cause.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.