THE 1988 murder of Darlene Tiffany Moore, a 12-year-old girl sitting on a Roxbury mailbox, marked a tragic high point in Boston’s then-skyrocketing murder rate. Police were under intense pressure to find the killer or killers, with the mayor and much of the city demanding justice. Eventually, a suspected gang member named Shawn Drumgold was tried, found guilty, and sent to prison.
But there was little physical evidence, and a key witness recanted. Drumgold’s conviction eventually was overturned on the grounds that Boston police hadn’t revealed that the witness, a homeless street kid, had been put up in a motel, given meals, and paid at least $20. After 14 years in prison, Drumgold was a free man. Four years ago, a federal jury awarded him $14 million in damages from the Boston police; the city appealed, arguing that the judge should have instructed the jury to find the city liable only if the police’s failure to reveal the payments to the witness had been a decisive factor in the jury’s decision to convict. Earlier this month, the appeals court ruled for the city. Drumgold’s lawyer vowed to press on for another trial.
But now that both sides have had their day in court, the case should be settled. Drumgold’s conviction was clearly flawed, and prosecutors have declined to retry him. He deserves some compensation for his 14 years in prison.
The city, for its part, may feel pressure to defend the actions of the police detective who withheld the information about paying for the witness’s hotel and meals. But the appeals court’s ruling gives the police a measure of satisfaction, reintroducing the possibility that the department’s actions weren’t directly responsible for Drumgold’s conviction. It would be both costly and foolish for the city to press on; unless police are prepared to prove that Drumgold is, in fact, guilty, they and the city should be open to giving him some form of restitution for the time he spent in prison.
Likewise, Drumgold should be open to a smaller settlement; a new jury, faced with a narrower instruction from a judge, is hardly a lock to offer a judgment as high as $14 million. And even if he were to get a big award, that would merely set off another round of appeals. At 47, Drumgold should be ready to put this episode behind him.
Mayor Menino’s spokeswoman Dot Joyce responded to the order for a new trial by saying the city is “very pleased that the Court of Appeals has found in our favor. Our law department will study the decision before planning its next steps.” It should study up, and then offer a reasonable settlement. The Drumgold saga, which this summer will reach the quarter-century mark, is an old piece of business that should be brought to an honorable end.