By Nikki Suzani
BROOKLYN – Sonny Dawson’s conviction for Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree was finally overturned by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit (CRU) after it found out a witness had perjured herself on the stand.
But, meanwhile, Dawson spent eight years in prison.
In the original case in 1988, a man was shot and killed during an argument in Brooklyn. Three witnesses all placed Dawson at the scene, saying that he was the one to fire his weapon. However, when the trial date came, all five refused to testify—the prosecution was told they had 24 hours to find a witness that would testify, and a woman, A.L., who had not spoken to police before, came forward and testified.
A.L.’s account at the trial differed from that of the three, non-testifying witnesses in some pretty major ways: she said that Dawson was standing on a separate side of the street than all five other witnesses, and that he’d run a different direction after the shooting.
Further, she was unable to identify him in a lineup, and only pointed him out when she was on the stand and he was sitting with the defense.
More suspiciously, when the CRU conducted a new interview with A.L., they found that her physical description of him was completely wrong, and she did not recognize his photo.
She also admitted that she had lied to the court about her name, date of birth, and the neighborhood in which she lived.
This had hindered the defense’s ability to cross-examine her connection to the victim, her potential connection to the defendant, her knowledge of the neighborhood where the shooting was conducted, and whether she was credible in the first place.
In fact, at trial she had testified, along with the victim’s brother, that she had previously told the victim’s brother about witnessing the shooting and had luckily reconnected with him on the day the prosecution needed a new witness.
However, because the defense had the wrong information about her name, the defense was unable to investigate her ties to the victim’s brother, and whether she had actually witnessed the scene or he had called on her when no one else would testify.
This lack of witness credibility and perjury on the stand was the major reason that the CRU chose to vacate Dawson’s conviction.
However, they also noted that the prosecutor in the case should have been more careful.
The prosecutor should have corroborated her identity to make sure she had provided the correct name, and should have scrutinized her testimony to make sure she was being truthful. Given that she had given an entirely different account of events than the other three witnesses, the prosecutor should have been prepared to drop the case, not continue it with an alleged witness who wasn’t being truthful.
Thus, due to the evidence from the new interview, the witness credibility issues, and the prosecutorial misconduct, the CRU chose to vacate Dawson’s conviction.
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