BROOKLYN CONVICTION REVIEW UNIT: Spencer Mitchell (2005)

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Spencer Mitchell Received Life Sentence Without Evidence Implicating Him

By Nicholas Gardner

BROOKLYN – Earlier in July, the Kings County District Attorney’s Office along with The Innocence Project and WilmerHale Law Firm, released a 100-page report titled “426 Years: An Examination of 25 Wrongful Convictions in Brooklyn, New York,” that details cases reviewed by the Kings County Conviction Review Unit (CRU) involving 25 individuals wrongfully convicted, and since exonerated.

The publication of this report comes at a time when thousands of people across the country continue to show their frustration with our nation’s criminal justice system.

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said he released the report to “build community trust, especially now, when so many people in this country are expressing anger and despair with the system, we must reckon with and be transparent about the mistakes of the past.” He said he also wanted to “share the methods, analyses and findings of the CRU with others around the country who are engaged in this critical work, and with the public at large.”

Brooklyn Man Exonerated after 11 Years— In 2005, Spencer Mitchell was convicted of Murder in the First Degree after the armed robbery of a Brooklyn tire shop left two men dead and one injured.

Mitchell served 11 years of a life sentence before the King’s County CRU intervened and recommended that his convictions be vacated due to a questionable piece of physical evidence presented during trial as well as new evidence that undermined the prosecution’s eyewitness testimony.

Two and a half years prior to Mitchell’s conviction, a man entered a Brooklyn tire shop, killing the store’s owner as well as a part-time employee in a failed armed robbery attempt. Also present was the owner’s son, who suffered injuries, and a friend of the owner, who was not physically harmed during the ordeal.

Following the incident, the uninjured witness told police that he was visiting the store’s owner in the back office of the tire shop when a man entered with a gun. What ensued was a struggle between the store’s owner and the armed man that resulted in the office lights being turned off. During this time, the intruder fired several shots before fleeing the shop while continuing to fire his weapon.

Physical evidence was scarce, but two knit hats were recovered at the scene— one inside the shop, and one outside. The hat found outside of the shop contained DNA belonging to Spencer Mitchell, and 2.5 years after the shooting occurred, the aforementioned witness identified Mitchell in a lineup. Mitchell was subsequently indicted for Murder in the First Degree and other charges relating to the shooting.

At the trial, the same witness reaffirmed his identification of Mitchell, and the other witness— who was the owner’s son— also identified Mitchell as the shooter. However, the owner’s son had never made an out-of-court identification. After the prosecution introduced the knit hat as evidence, Mitchell was convicted on all counts.

The CRU suggested that Mitchell’s convictions be vacated because of the uncertainties concerning the physical evidence presented, as well as possible flaws in the two eyewitness’ identifications.

The prosecution’s request for a line-up of Mitchell was granted by the court under the impression that the knit hat found at the scene contained Mitchell’s DNA. However, Mitchell’s DNA was never found on the inside of the hat.

Additionally, the prosecution had identified the hat found outside as the one containing the DNA, but the CRU was not able to identify where the hat came from. Interestingly enough, the witness testified that the shooter wore the hat found inside the shop, not outside. Neither hat actually contained DNA belonging to Mitchell.

The CRU also expressed concern over the prosecution’s eyewitness testimony. The only witness to make an out-of-court identification was the friend of the store owner, who made this identification in an “improperly suggestive” lineup.

The prosecution also failed to disclose exculpatory evidence, including when the same eyewitness told investigators that another suspect looked like the gunman. Additionally, another witness had come forward two weeks after the incident, stating that he was at the scene and identified someone other than Mitchell as the shooter. The prosecution failed to disclose this encounter.

Finally, the shop owner’s son identified Mitchell as the shooter, but only years after the incident occurred. The CRU recognized that he had suffered various impairments due to the shooting, which included spontaneous loss of memory. His recollection of the incident had changed slightly over the years, and was inconsistent with the other eyewitness in several ways.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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