Wrongful conviction lawsuit settled for $5m
Shawn Drumgold spent 14 years locked away, unfairly convicted in the slaying of a girl felled by gunfire while she chatted with friends in Roxbury more than two decades ago.
Now, the City of Boston has agreed that it should pay a price for Drumgold’s errant incarceration. The city is giving Drumgold $5 million to settle his wrongful conviction lawsuit in the murder of Darlene Tiffany Moore, the 12-year-old killed nearly 26 years ago. It is believed to be the largest such settlement in the city’s history.
Drumgold has already received his check from the city. He has set money aside for the college education of his two children and living expenses for his family, and he is considering attending college, said Rosemary C. Scapicchio, the Boston attorney who has pursued the civil litigation in federal courts since 2004.
“It is a vindication,’’ Scapicchio said Wednesday of the decision by the administration of Mayor Martin J. Walsh to settle the litigation by Drumgold, who was not available for comment. “He spent 15 years in jail for a crime that he didn’t commit.’’
In addition to the $5 million settlement, the city has spent more than $2.7 million in legal fees on the Drumgold case. The fear of continuing costs factored into the city’s decision to settle, a spokeswoman for Walsh said.
“Due to the inherent risk of a jury trial, the city decided to settle the case at this point in time,” spokeswoman Kate Norton said.
Drumgold was 24 when he was convicted of first-degree murder for the killing of Moore, whose death was blamed on a feud between street gangs that exploded into gunfire on the summer night of Aug. 19, 1988. Moore was sitting on a mailbox when she was struck by bullets fired by two masked men who authorities said were aiming for a suspected gang member standing nearby, according to court records.
Drumgold took the stand at his Suffolk Superior Court trial and testified he was not near the shooting scene, and he had a friend testify in support of his alibi. The office of Newman Flanagan, then Suffolk district attorney, built the case largely on eyewitness testimony.
Drumgold was sentenced to life without parole and was still behind bars in 2003 when The Boston Globe reported that Boston police had been told that a key eyewitness suffered from brain cancer at the trial and that another witness claimed police fed him details about the murder.
The office of Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, which had inherited the case from Flanagan, effectively vacated Drumgold’s conviction on the grounds that his trial was legally flawed — but without declaring that Drumgold was an innocent man who had been wrongly convicted.
No one has been charged since the Drumgold prosecution for the murder of Moore.
Mary Adams, a friend of Moore’s mother, Alice, who died in 1994, said Alice Moore wanted justice for her daughter and always hoped that the men who killed her child would someday be behind bars. At the same time, Adams said, Alice Moore would never approve of the imprisonment of an innocent man.
“She wanted the guilty party to be accountable,’’ Adams said. “But she wouldn’t want an innocent person to be punished.’’
Adams knows Drumgold and his family and said she is convinced he was wrongly convicted. The city, she said, should pay him everything he asked for. “He spent a lot of wasted time in prison,’’ Adams said. “That’s the least they can do.’’
One year after his release from prison, Drumgold sued Francis “Mickey” Roache, who was Boston’s police commissioner at the time of the Moore shooting, and three Boston police officers who investigated the murder. In 2009, a US District Court jury found that police withheld evidence but deadlocked on the question of whether it was the reason for Drumgold’s conviction. A mistrial was declared.
A new jury heard the case in 2009 and ruled in favor of Drumgold, awarding him $14 million — $1 million for each year he spent in prison. But that verdict was overturned by the First Circuit Court of Appeals in 2013 when a majority ruled that the trial judge gave improper legal instructions that may have influenced their verdict in Drumgold’s favor.
Scapicchio said the legal struggle continued until this year, when Walsh’s administration agreed to have a mediator resolve the matter, which he did in April. Scapicchio said Drumgold accepted the lower figure of $5 million because he believed it was a fair offer that would end the litigation.
“This is the first time that there was enough money on the table to talk about resolving’’ the lawsuit, said Scapicchio, who, along with co-counsel Michael W. Reilly, will collect $1.6 million in fees. “Five million dollars is a lot of money to walk away from.
“I am very confident that if we tried the case again, we would have gotten another [favorable] jury verdict,” Scapicchio said. “But Shawn’s been waiting 10 years for his case to get resolved. I think he got to the point where he just didn’t want to wait any longer.’’
Scapicchio said the settlement is the largest payout from a Boston agency for a wrongful conviction, surpassing the $3.2 million paid to Stephan Cowans, who was exonerated by DNA testing from having any role in a nonfatal shooting of a Boston police officer. Cowans spent six years in prison before testing showed that a fingerprint was not his and that the DNA found on other evidence was not a match.
Cowans was shot to death in his home in Randolph in 2007.