By Luke Kyaw, Alexander Pleitez, Beth Miller, and Stephanie Boulos
QUEENS, NY – The criminal justice system is not known for being perfect. In fact, it is often scrutinized by its ability to dismantle the lives of innocent people.
After a significant amount of time in prison, Neron Dozier may just be one of those lives.
On May 13, 2000 at 21st street in Queens, NY, Luis Figueroa and Derrick Gilmore were shot while they were stopped at a red traffic light in a red Ford Explorer. Gilmore, the driver, was shot five times from the back of the driver seat, Figueroa was shot once, according to autopsy reports and evidence collected at the scene of the incident.
Witnesses claimed that the shooter came out of a green or turquoise SUV or minivan that was also stopped at the red light a couple cars behind the victim’s vehicle. One of the witnesses was able to provide the police with a license plate number of a GMC vehicle later found abandoned at the Queensbridge housing complex.
The abandoned GMC vehicle was owned by Angela Willis, a police officer, who, when questioned by police, said that her boyfriend, Angel Moormon, had the keys to the vehicle.
Moorman lived at the Queensbridge housing complex, the same place where the GMC was found abandoned. He was arrested and charged with second degree murder by the police, at which time he was in possession of the GMC keys.
When Moormon was interviewed by police, he said that on that morning he had picked up his friend Ron and that Ron asked to borrow the GMC truck, which Moorman lent him. The friend Moorman identified as Ron is thought to be Dozier.
Moormon further stated that Ron called him at 10:30 a.m. to ask to meet at a basketball court to return the GMC. However, the police had already found the abandoned vehicle at 10:14 a.m.
Although Gilmore was unable to survive his injuries, Figueroa did survive and participated in a photo line-up the day of the shooting. At that time, he positvely identified Angel Moorman in a photo lineup, as seen in evidence later revealed. (Figueroa Photographic Identification #1)
Additionally, a 911 report states that a witness saw one person wearing a green army jacket running out of the GMC vehicle and into the Queensbridge housing complex building while the driver of the vehicle ditched the car.
Despite the police denying that they had ever considered a second perpetrator, a sprint report
stated that after the police reported having the first perpetrator in custody at 12:18 p.m., the time of Moormon’s arrest, the police continued to look for a second perpetrator wearing a green army jacket.
According to Dozier, Moorman’s nephew was around Moorman a lot of the time and fit the description of the second perpetrator. Although the nephew was brought in for questioning, he was never considered a suspect.
Officer Conlon was the officer who found the GMC vehicle and voided Moorman’s arrest with no reasoning as to why the charges were dropped. A year after the shooting, Conlon also examined Willis’ gun purely to see if it was functional. He did not assess whether the gun could have been the one used in the shooting.
Despite being the star witnesses for the prosecution, Moorman, Willis, and Conlon did not testify during the trial.
Dozier appealed the decision convicting him on eight occasions between 2003 and 2016, according to an appeal history report presented by his attorneys.
In four of these instances, Dozier filed a motion claiming ineffective counsel by either his appellate attorney or his attorney during his trial. In these motions he argued that he was denied his right to participate in side-bar conference and for failing to suppress evidence taken after he was arrested without a warrant.
Two more of Dozier’s motions primarily addressed the state’s inability to prove its case due to issues with the reliability of the witnesses and the discovery of new evidence that Figueroa identified Moorman as the shooter.
In addition to these, Dozier filed another motion arguing that focused on finding out whether DNA evidence is available, its location, and to test the evidence. To which the state argued that testing would bear no difference in the case on the basis that the lack of evidence matching the defendant with the DNA would not exonerate him.
All of these motions were denied. Dozier even submitted a motion to appeal the denial of the motion to find and test the DNA evidence.
INSUFFICIENT INVESTIGATION AND GRATUITOUS RELEASE OF ALTERNATE SUSPECTS:
Despite Dozier being targeted as the main focus of the case, in actuality, he was only one in a handful of suspects, all of which, other than Dozier, were released and never thoroughly investigated.
The first suspect was Officer Angela Willis, who, against policy, failed to mention she was an officer when the police arrived. Willis was in possession of the vehicle described at the scene of the crime which led to the officers questioning her.
With this, the police made note that Willis was “uncooperative” In the statement she made, she said that she had lost her keys and that no one else had a spare.
She later went on to change her story saying the vehicle was gone that morning and that Moorman took her car keys a month prior. The police then searched her house finding her badge and weapon.
Even though that weapon combined with the evidence should have raised a red flag, ballistic testing on Willis’ service weapon wasn’t done until a year later right before trial. With that, they ceased investigation of Willis.
The second suspect was Willis’ nephew, Dwyane Willis. In talking with Willis, one of the officers at her home informed her that her nephew matched the description of the shooter in which Angela Willis quickly stepped in to defend.
However, later in the investigation, there was no mention that Officer McCabe was aware that the owner of the vehicle involved in the shooting had a relative living in her home who matched the description of the suspect. In the end, they dismissed nephew Willis as a suspect without explanation.
Their third suspect, and first prime suspect, was someone Willis mentioned in her testimony, that being Moorman. He claimed to be Angela’s current boyfriend and when he was arrested he was found to be in possession of keys to the car used by the perpetrator; the car was also parked directly in front of his apartment building just after the shooting.
When questioned. he said that Officer Willis gave the keys to him along with unlimited access to the vehicle. If that wasn’t enough, a lineup of photos was presented to Figueroa with Moorman as one of the suspects, in which they identified Moorman as the shooter.
Attorney Adams argues Moorman was picked out because he had keys matching the vehicle less than 20 minutes after the shooting took place in his pocket, and was cleared within 24 hours.
However, he provided a self-serving statement, alleging that his friend, Dozier, had taken the vehicle and its keys and then returned it to Moorman.
And after that interview, without any explanation as to how he was eliminated as a suspect, police “voided” his arrest, concluded that he “did not shoot the complainant,” and released him from custody.
However, no evidence suggested that they attempted to verify anything he had stated.
This was exceedingly unexpected with the list of evidence against him, especially compounded with the fact that Moorman had been charged with second-degree murder of Gilmore, and was in custody for the murder at that time when identification was made.
PLEA DEAL FIGUEROA:
As Gilmore’s passenger at the time of the shooting, Figueroa was a key eyewitness whose testimony undeniably contributed to the jury finding Swan guilty.
Figueroa had testified in court that he had seen defendant Dozier, who he called “Tuffy,” at the scene of the crime. After Gilmore and he were shot at and the former was subsequently driving away to dodge the gunfire, Figueroa allegedly saw “Tuffy” at this moment standing by the front driver’s door of a green Jimmy Blazer truck nearby.
When Gilmore passed out and the vehicle crashed into a parked van, the same green truck had sped past them and Figueroa claimed that he saw “Tuffy” driving the vehicle, according to s trial digest that summarized key points of Dozier’s trial.
(Note: Figueroa and Dozier had known each other since 1993 when they were both fellow inmates at Kasocki Correctional Facility.)
This was Figueroa’s official testimony in court, but it certainly wasn’t the same statement he had made the night after the incident.
On the night of the shooting, Figueroa was asked by police to identify the suspected perpetrator out of a given photographic line-up. At this point, Figueroa had only mentioned that he saw an unknown Black male apparently shooting at the truck. What is notable in the line-up identification here is that Figueroa had actually identified Moorman to be the suspect.
(Note: This identification was not made known to the court and the attorneys at the time and was only found through a later FOIA – Freedom of Information Act – request.)
However, following two days after the incident and an interview with Detective Stathes, Figueroa began a different claim where he now allegedly attributed “Tuffy” a.k.a Neron Dozier, to be the unknown Black male.
Furthermore, in a subsequent line-up conducted the next day, he identified Dozier to be the suspect. This new identification and subsequent testimony became key statements against Dozier, ultimately resulting in his conviction.
At the time of Dozier’s trial, Figueroa had an open felony case where he had been charged for selling narcotics in a school zone and assaulting an officer. His trial testimony proved that this was his fifth felony charge, which makes a prison sentence very likely if found guilty.
However, it is interesting to note that three months after Dozier was convicted, Figueroa had his own trial where the judge ordered him to be admitted into a drug rehabilitation center, a very lenient option atypical for fifth felony offenders.
What had allowed the court to exercise this unusual leniency were documents from the District Attorney’s Office that somehow indicated that Figueroa was a second, not fifth, felony offender. His charges had also been reduced from four counts to just one count of attempted sale of a controlled substance in the third degree.
The Deskovic Foundation, which has been going through Dozier’s case and related past documents, suggest that a plea deal between Figueroa and the state may have very likely been made at the time.
Throughout the pending duration of Dozier’s case, Figueroa’s court records indicate that his case was reviewed by the judge every two to four weeks and there were even hand-written notations that included ADA Walcott’s name.
Prior to this, ADA Walcott, Dozier’s prosecutor, had been in no way whatsoever involved with Figueroa’s case, according to internal documents.
The possibility of a plea deal had actually been brought up by defense counsel D’elia during the trial, who cited People v. Stedman, which ruled that the presence of a plea deal has to be disclosed to the other party involved.
When D’elia asked Walcott if any deal had been implicitly or explicitly made with Figueroa, the latter replied that “[t]here is no deal with him [and] no promises have been made,” as the trial records show.
During his cross-examination, when asked about whether he believes whether the district attorney’s office will make a recommendation for his pending case, Figueroa said, “There are no promises and guarantees … [but] at this point, I hope something will be done.”
Attorney Adams says “we believe that if Figueroa testified, then they would make his case go away…the guy who ultimately picked out Neron had a case resolved after he testified against him.”
Regarding his alibi that day, Dozier claimed that he was being cared for by his mother at his grandmother’s apartment at the time of the shooting. He had been shot in the leg by Gilmore earlier the day before and he said that he was “not mobile due to the wound.”
Attorney Jarret Adams explained that “the worst place you can be when you’re accused of a crime is with a friend or a family member because they undermine those alibis…”
Adams goes on further to explain that this was a foolish mistake on the part of the previous attorney because in this case, Dozier’s mother as an alibi can be supported by the fact that Dozier was shot and needed to be taken care of.
It’s strange, in Attorney Adams’s eyes, that this alibi wasn’t further investigated due to the fact that the officer had information that may have jeopardized the case.
However, despite Dozier telling his trial attorney that he had a family member – his mother who had been attending to his wound – willing to testify that he was not mobile and was with her that day, the attorney only replied that he would look into it and never called the family member as Dozier noted in his answers to the questionnaire for the Deskovic Foundation.
With so many suspects on the line, it seems surprising that the police would focus so heavily on Dozier because at first he was only very lightly connected with the investigation until the testimony of Moorman, the original prime suspect.
During his first testimony to police, Moorman placed blame on Dozier despite the evidence pointing at Moorman. Even with that, the police still heavily shifted their focus
In addition, in Moorman’s testimony, he had given Dozier a motive in the form of revenge, stating Dozier and Gilmore were involved in an altercation, which resulted in Gilmore shooting Dozier in the leg.
Even though such an injury would handicap him during the time of the shooting, making it impossible for him to have been the perpetrator.
Witnesses stated that they saw the perpetrator run and none said that they used a cane or walked with a limp. However, the police still took this as a motive.
Lastly, despite having identified Moorman as the shooter in a lineup of photos Figueroa eventually switched his story and identified Dozier, which resulted in him later serving as the state’s star witness against Dozier.
Attorney Adams says that is possible that the nephew of the police officers was involved in the shooting, and was there.
The discrepancies in the acts of the investigators and prosecutors not only framed Dozier as the only possible suspect while freeing several others but also led to a slew of Brady violations.
A Brady violation occurs when a prosecutor in a criminal case fails to release information to the side of the defense, especially if such information does not help their case. This supports a person’s right to a fair and factual trial, which Dozier was, seemingly, did not receive.
The first Brady Violation was the failure of investigators and prosecution to disclose to Dozier that Figueroa identified Moorman in a photographic line-up the night of the murder; covering up the shotty police work to remove doubt in their decision to release him.
Letting Moorman go without explanation despite evidence and switching of their story must have been told to the court.
Their second, was related to the suppression of Willis as a suspect, despite matching the description and having access to the vehicle. Their lack of investigation into such a suspect would also be a critical reference point.
In addition to the identity of the perpetrator being in question, investigators failed to mention that the number of perpetrators was also questioned, with the belief that there could have been two, but still lacking investigation.
The fact this wasn’t revealed to the court led to their third Brady Violation, possibly the worst.
Although offering plea deals in exchange for a testimony, especially a testimony that heavily supports one side, not only seems unfair but critical information to reveal to the court – the prosecution failed to mention it.
The prosecution offered Figueroa a plea deal for a testimony that the court could take as a form of bribery for not just a testimony but a better fitting testimony.
QUEENS DA’S OFFICE’S HISTORY OF MISCONDUCT:
The nearly four instances of evidence being suppressed by Queens prosecutors begs the question of whether this has happened in their office before, and just exactly how this could happen.
This question has been investigated by a number of news sites ranging from local publications in New York to other websites interested in prosecutorial misconduct, with striking headlines highlighting cases
In an article by Troy Closson for the New York Times, several wrongful conviction cases and cases of misconduct are laid out, pointing out not just the systematic failures of the Queen’s DA office but the US justice system.
In an article published in November of 2019, by the Queens Eagle, author David Brand draws on three wrongful conviction lawsuits filed in Queens Supreme Court that claim “top executives in the DA’s office implemented an ‘office policy’ that was indifferent to misconduct and rewarded prosecutors for winning cases’”).
The instances of misconduct that can be found in Dozier’s case are not unique, but a recurring theme from an arguably corrupt DA’s office.
After 30 years of an unchanging DA staff and the misconduct that it birthed, Melinda R Katz was elected on a platform begging for change, and the DA’s office has even gone as far as creating a new unit to handle the results of the previous office’s misconduct.
The website of District Attorney Katz’s has a few press releases on motions being filed this year attempting to vacate convictions in murder cases due to failures to disclose evidence, or newly discovered witnesses and evidence in a newly started unit for conviction integrity.
Here are just a few of these headlines,
“QUEENS DISTRICT ATTORNEY TO FILE JOINT MOTION WITH DEFENSE TO VACATE CONVICTION IN MURDER & ATTEMPTED MURDER CASE AND RELEASE A MAN INCARCERATED FOR 32 YEARS”
The apparent misconduct in Queens DA’s office, and the seemingly wrongful conviction of Neron Dozier screams reform across the U.S. in all DA offices.
Neron Dozier’s road to overturning a wrongful conviction has not been easy, and the burden it has left him and so many other likewise situated defendants with is heinous.
Currently, the Queens integrity unit is currently investigating the case, and Attorney Adams says he was recently at the scene of the crime speaking with the unit. And Dozier should be interviewed soon.
“The evidence all shows and suggests that this was a mixture of poor representation and lack of investigation,” said Adams.