Will Duchon wrote -
The Opus 30 Mission is a small organization based in Milford, CT, dedicated to the exoneration of Mr. Shane Watson,who has been incarcerated since 1993 for a crime he did NOT commit. We have been in existence since 2004. Shane is a victim of a flawed "justice" system, and was convicted of second-degree murder based on flimsy eyewitness evidence and coerced testamony.
- For details about Shane and my personal involvement with his case, read below.
- To make easy online PayPal donations to Shane's defense fund, simply go to http://www.opusthirty.blogspot.com
WE ARE FINALLY READY TO TAKE SHANE'S CASE TO COURT!!
Now we need to raise $15,000 for attorney fees. This is the only obstacle to Shane finally having his day in court with new and very compelling evidence!
Please take some time to read about Shane, his case,and my personal involvement with it all. Thanks to Doris Kersten, Peter Krautle, Kathy Coyle, Sherri Martindale, and especially to our wonderful investigator, Doug Walters, as well as our attorney Robert Boyle. Also, thanks to the good people from Presbyterian Church of Pleasantville, NY and Monroe Congregational Church, Monroe CT for their faith and support.
Summary of Shane Watson's Case by Dr. Jennifer Dysart THE PEOPLE vs. SHANE WATSON: A SUMMATION
The following is a summary of the case of The People vs. Shane Watson, written by Dr. Jennifer Dysart of Southern Connecticut University after her review of the trial transcripts and police reports. Dr. Dysart is one of the countries leading experts in the field of photo array and lineup procedures as used (and abused) in criminal trials. This summation offers a concise analysis of the details of the trial, most importantly the very questionable aspects of Shane’s case which support our efforts toward his exoneration. My gratitude goes out to Dr. Dysart for her dedication and time spent composing this summary.
Defendant: Shane Watson
Victim: Mark Johnson
Crime occurred in 1991, trial and conviction in 1993 in NY.
Main prosecution evidence presented at trial:
· Three eyewitness identifications
· No physical evidence
· No motive
· All witnesses state that the perp was wearing a hooded sweatshirt that was pulled tightly, making it difficult to see the face.
Defense evidence presented at trial:
· One eyewitness
· One witness who had a conversation about the crime with witness Holloway (see below).
1. Christine Holloway
· Prime witness
· At trial she stated that she viewed the perp from her car as she was parking
· On earlier occasions she stated that she was out of her car going into her apartment when she viewed him
· She chose the defendant from a lineup
· Questionable facts:
· Holloway told a neighbor (Martin) that she did not see the perp’s face and that it would be impossible for anyone to see his face because he had a hooded sweatshirt on with the hood pulled tight around his face. Martin also testified that Holloway told her that she was being harassed by the police to make an identification.
· Defense council believed that she was a suspect in her husband’s murder at the time of the crime. He did not have any evidence to support his belief and it was never brought to the jury’s attention.
2. Monique James
· The detective notes state that she “can not ID”
· Other detective notes state that she did not see or hear anything.
· Made an identification from the photo spread and from the lineup.
3. Robin James (Monique James’ sister)
· Told police that the man had a "big gun".
· Said she saw the perp running.
· Made an identification from the photo spread and from the lineup.
1. Jesus Jimenez
· Viewed the crime and gave a description to the police
· Was never shown a lineup
· Testified at trial that the defendant was not the man he saw do the shooting.
2. Martin (neighbor)
· Did not witness the crime
· Spoke with Holloway and was told by Holloway that she did not see the perp’s face.
Other questionable facts:
1. The victim’s girlfriend, Diana Almonte, was approximately 3 car lengths away from the victim when the shooting began. She gave a description to the police of the perp and called him an unidentified man. She was acquainted with the defendant (she is his ex-girlfriend and the defendant is the father of her cousin’s child) and therefore when she stated that the perp was an unidentified male, is questions the likelihood that the perp was the defendant. She was never shown a lineup.
2. The victim was the third boyfriend of Diana Almonte who had been killed.
3. One of the sisters told her mother that the perp was a brown skinned Puertorican. This is also reflected in the detective’s notes. The defendant is African-American.
4. It was never brought to light how Watson became a suspect in the case. The crime stoppers anonymous call implicating Watson came in after all three prosecution witnesses has made an identification.
5. The sisters were both shown a photo lineup followed by a live lineup, where only the defendant appeared in both lineups.
6. The sisters lived together and one of the sisters was shown the same lineup as the other four days after the first sister chose #1. There is a substantial likelihood that the sisters discussed the case during these four days.
7. One of the sisters testified at trial that the police suggested to her that the person who did the crime looked like the man in position 1 in the photo lineup. The defendant was in position 1. Because the identification from the photo lineup was biased, the following live lineup was also biased.
8. No search warrant was executed for Watson’s home.
9. The victim had been released from prison for murder. His victim’s family members were never questioned by police.
10. There was another male witness, William Nin, who gave a description the night of the crime but was never shown a lineup and never testified at trial. He told police that the perp used a shotgun.
11. Almonte also told police that the perp used a long gun. In total, 3 witnesses said that the perp used a long gun, but this did not match the ballistic evidence, which suggested the gun was a handgun.
12. Watson walks and runs with a limp due to an accident that required a metal rod to be inserted in his leg. None of the witnesses said that the perp limped.
13. When Watson heard that the police were looking for him, he went to the police station on his own.
Shane Watson (Born 11/21/ 1965, Bronx New York)
Indictment No. 7806/91
Murder in the second degree
Manslaughter in the first degree
Criminal Possession in the first degree
The Supreme Court of the State of New York
County of Bronx
851 Grand Concourse
Honorable Gerald Sheindlin, Judge
Brian J. Sullivan, Esq.
Assistant District Attorney,Bronx County
Paul Markstein, Esq.
I. The Crime and Trial Proceedings
1. The Crime: October 9, 1991, 11:30 PM
At approximately 11:30 PM on Wednesday evening October 9, 1991, Mark Johnson, 27, was shot three times. The three bullets entered Mr. Johnson’s body in the right thigh, the right shoulder, and the fatal shot was one to the head. The shooting took place at the side of 1961 Schiefflein Avenue in the Bronx. The victim was transported to Our Lady of Mercy Hospital where a Dr. Jervius pronounced him dead.
At the time of the shooting, Mark Johnson was standing on the street next to his car, a black 1982 BMW. He was talking with a girlfriend, Diana Almonte, who stated that she was “about three car lengths apart” at the time of the shooting. Almonte lived at 1981 Schiefflin Avenue. Almonte gave a statement to Patrol Officer Kevin Duffy from the 47th Precinct of the NYPD. PO Duffy was the first NYPD officer on the scene. (The first police officer on the scene was PO John Crecco of the NYC Housing Police).
2. The Witnesses
WITNESSES FOR THE PROSECUTION: Christine Holloway, Monique James, Robin James, PO John Crecco, NYC Housing Police, PO Kevin Duffy, NYPD, Detective Frank Morelli, Bronx DA Squad, Dr. Jonathan Pearl, Medical Examiner, Detective Sevelie Jones, NYPD
WITNESSES FOR THE DEFENSE: Jesus Jiminez, Marguerite Martin.
3. Synopsis of Civilian Witness Testimony
The most significant testimony was that of the civilian witnesses. During jury deliberations the jury requested a transcript of the testimony of Christine Holloway and Marguerite Martin.
CHRISTINE HOLLOWAY: At the time of the crime, Christine Holloway was 29 years old, and working as a Corrections Officer. She lived at 1173 E. 229 Street in the Bronx. On the evening of the crime she had visited her brother who was a patient at Our Lady of Mercy Hospital, and was returning to her home. She and her husband were separated at the time, and the husband was supposed to bring their two children back to Mrs. Holloway. As she approached her building’s parking lot, Mrs. Holloway noticed a BMW in the street with a man standing beside the car, which she described as “African-American, tall, well-built.” While parking her car in the parking lot behind her building, Holloway testified that she saw a man dressed in a dark hooded jacket walk in front of her vehicle, in the headlights, and out to the street, where he started shooting another man who was standing beside his black BMW. After the shooting, Holloway testified that the same man who had done the shooting ran back towards her car and past her car, disappearing behind a building. On November 20, 1991, Christine Holloway picked Shane Watson out of a lineup, identifying him as the person she saw in front of her car and the person who did the shooting on October 9.
MONIQUE JAMES: At the time of the crime, Monique James was 20 years old. She and her sister Robin lived at 1961 Schiefflin Avenue. Robin James testified that at the time of the crime she was in the bathroom and heard gunshots. She then went to the window and saw someone in “all black (clothing) running.” She then went to the bedroom window and looked out on the street where she saw a body lying.
ROBIN JAMES: Sister of Monique James, 14 years old at the time of the shooting. Robin James testified that she was doing homework in her bedroom and ran to the window after hearing shots. She saw a man running away from her, dressed in “black pants and a black hoody”.
JESUS JIMINEZ: Lived at 1985 Schiefflin Avenue at the time of the shooting. Mr. Jiminez had just started to eat dinner. He ran to the living room window and saw a man lying in the street, and another man facing the building. This man was dressed in “ black and white sneakers, black pants, a black hood, a black hoody with a hood on and then he had a hat on top and he had lots of flags on the hat.” Mr. Jiminez described this man as carrying a gun in his right hand, and “six feet tall, about 160 pounds. He was very slim. He appeared very slim.”
MARGUERITE MARTIN: Resided at 1045 E. 230 Street at the time of the crime. Mrs. Martin knew Christine Holloway. Mrs. Martin testified that Christine Holloway had spoken to her about the crime, saying “ a man ran past her car with a hood on his head. She (Christine Holloway) could not see his face.” She also testified that Christine Holloway had confided in her that “ the police were harassing her (Holloway) to be a witness.” Another statement Holloway made to Mrs. Martin was that “ it was impossible for her (Holloway) to see the face because of the hood.”
4. The Verdict : October 13, 1993
In a unanimous vote, the jury of twelve returned a guilty verdict at 4:47 PM.
5. The Sentence: November 23, 1993
Having been found guilty of Murder in the Second Degree, Shane Watson was sentenced to a term of life, with a minimum of 25 years to be served in state prison.
Shane Watson began serving his sentence at Downstate Prison for a brief period of time. He was then transferred to Attica in January of 1994 where he remained until March of 1995. From that time on until the present time Shane Watson has been incarcerated at Green Haven Correctional Facility in Stormville, NY.
II. Basis for Reasonable Doubt: Reflections on a Flawed Prosecution
Before the jury began deliberations, Judge Sheindlin informed the members of the jury of their obligations as jurors. As part of this proceeding, Judge Sheindlin instructed the jury as follows: “It is your sworn duty to decide if this defendant is guilty or not guilty solely and exclusively—listen to the words—solely and exclusively upon the evidence presented in this courtroom during this trial and upon nothing else”.
Later in instructing the jury, Judge Sheindlin reminded jurors of the presumption of innocence: “You will take the presumption (of innocence) with you into the juryroom. It continues right through the trial and the only way it can be removed from the defendant, the only way the presumption is destroyed is if all of you agree unanimously that the evidence is sufficient to persuade you beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did what the indictment says he did, that he is indeed guilty. Then the presumption no longer exists and only then can you bring in a verdict of guilty, remembering that the definition of the word guilty is proven beyond a reasonable doubt. This burden of proof remains upon the prosecution. It never shifts to the defendant. No defendant is required to prove that he is innocent, and each element of every crime submitted to you must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt."
Given this legal basis for a valid verdict of guilty, it is clear, after examining the trial transcripts and various witness statements given to the police that there was not nearly enough evidence to convict Shane Watson of this crime. Mr. Watson’s conviction was based upon the testimony of three very questionable witnesses; Christine Holloway, Robin James and Monique James. Two of these three witnesses, Robin and Monique James were forced to by the Prosecutor to testify, by virtue of a warrant which required that they appear in court to offer testimony, although neither of the James’ sisters wanted to testify. The key flaw in the prosecution of this case rests with the testimony of Christine Holloway. Aside from her testimony conflicting with initial statements she gave to the police following the shooting, Christine Holloway was herself the subject of a homicide case. Her estranged husband had been shot to death in Mrs. Holloway’s apartment. Apparently at the time of the shooting of Mark Johnson, Mrs. Holloway was under investigation, as was her boyfriend, also a Corrections Officer.
Paul Markstein, Shane’s attorney, brought this issue to the attention of Judge Sheindlin outside of the presence of the jury, during a recess at the time of Markstein’s cross-examination of Christine Holloway. Unfortunately, Mr. Markstein did not have documentation of the charges involving Mrs. Holloway at the time of the discussion with Judge Sheindlin. Accordingly, the judge denied Mr. Markstein’s request to pursue this issue in his cross-examination of Christine Holloway. In Judge Sheindlin’s words, the issue was “ collateral and it would tend to be confusing to the jury.”
Obviously, Mrs. Holloway’s alleged involvement in the murder of her husband has bearing on her credibility as a witness in Shane Watson’s case. Why? Because of her status as an officer of the law. Christine Holloway was a Corrections Officer at the time of the crime Shane was charged with. Her level of cooperation with the DA’s office regarding Shane’s case would certainly have an impact on the way her own case was being handled. As testified by Marguerite Martin, Christine Holloway had confided that the police were pressuring her to cooperate in the identification of Shane Watson as the shooter, this in spite of her own admission that she could not see the shooter’s face because of the black hooded sweatshirt he was wearing, the fact that he was running, and also because of the darkness of the night itself.
In his summation to the jury, Paul Markstein accurately described the case against Shane Watson as an “identity case”. At trial, there was no physical evidence presented by the prosecution that undoubtedly pointed to Shane Watson as the shooter. There was no gun produced. The police had never searched Shane’s apartment for a gun, or any physical evidence whatsoever such as bloody clothing, gunpowder residue on Shane’s clothing, etc. The only description which PO Duffy and Detective Jones got was that of a male in dark clothing. Diana Almonte, the person closest in proximity to Mark Johnson during the shooting gave a statement to Detective Jones in which she described the shooter as “an unidentified male”.
Christine Holloway’s testimony is by far the most questionable. In a hearing prior to the trial itself, Detective Jones testified that Christine Holloway initially reported observing a shooting. Contrary to Holloway’s trial testimony however, her initial statement was that she observed the shooting after exiting her auto and entering her apartment building. At trial, Christine Holloway testified that she observed the shooting while still inside her vehicle during her attempt to park it. (She stated that she was “not good at parking”). Also troubling is Holloway’s testimony regarding the shooter’s clothing. According to her testimony, she saw a person with a dark hood pulled over his head, so tightly that she cannot see his ears and in such a way that she is unable to describe anything distinctive about the person’s features. Yet several days later she picked Shane Watson out of a profile (side-view) photo array. Mrs. Holloway also testified that she saw a mugbook (photo collection of possible suspects) at the precinct. Detective Jones’ testimony completely contradicts this, because he testified that he never showed any of the witnesses a mugbook. Mrs. Holloway also claimed that she did not see Diana Almonte in the street near Mark Johnson, although Miss Almonte was only several feet away from Mr. Johnson at the time of the shooting.
Robin and Monique James both viewed a photo array when questioned at their apartment by detectives. It is critical to remember that the first description that Monique James gave to police was that she could not identify the perpetrator, since he was running away from her viewpoint, and she could not see his face. In spite of this, she eventually picks out Shane Watson’s photograph from a photo array. Monique was shown the array four days later than when Robin was shown the array. In both photo arrays, Shane Watson’s photo was in the identical position; his photo was #1 out of six. This obviously would influence the credibility of the identification. Both sisters lived in the same apartment, and would have spoken to each other about the photos they were shown. Having Shane’s photo in the same position in both photo arrays would certainly increase the chances of both sisters picking out his photo from the others. At trial, neither one of the James’ sisters were asked to identify the person they thought had committed the crime by pointing to the defendant.
The lineup procedure was also problematic. Roughly thirty minutes after Monique James failed to pick out Shane’s photograph in a photo array, she was shown a lineup, which of course included Shane Watson. Monique was unable to identify Shane Watson from a frontal view, or a right profile view. After flunking the first two viewings, she did finally choose Shane from a right profile view. Again, Monique James initially told the police that she could not see the perpetrators face at the time of the shooting, since he was running away from her and had on a hooded sweatshirt. Yet she was brought in to view a lineup.
Robin James’ testimony was also very problematic. In her initial statements to the police, Robin, then fourteen years old, identified the victim as having worn a blue jacket. The jacket recovered from Mark Johnson’s body was a hooded pullover, striped with gold and white stripes, tan in color. During Robin James’ viewing of the photo array, she testified that one of the detectives asked her repeatedly if the person she saw outside her window “ look(ed) like number one?” Like her sister, Robin initially stated that she did not see the perpetrator’s face at the time of the shooting. A tree outside of her bedroom window further obstructed her view. Yet she was shown a photo array and a lineup. The photo array she was shown had Shane Watson in the identical position as the photo array shown to Monique four days later. The positions of the other individuals in the two photo arrays were shuffled.
Why were the James’ sisters urged to view photo arrays and lineups, when they both stated that they had not seen the face of the perpetrator?
An equally important question surrounds Jesus Jiminez’ testimony. At trial, Jiminez testified that the person he saw with a gun was very slim, and wearing a hooded sweatshirt with a hat containing flags of some sort. Yet, Jiminez was never shown a photo array nor invited to view a lineup. Jiminez also testified that the perpetrator ran straight. Shane Watson is “pigeon-toed” and walks with a slight limp as a result of a motorcycle accident. Shane has a steel rod in his right leg. Why was Jiminez passed over by police in terms of viewing a lineup?
Another witness who did not testify at trial was Mr. William Nin. Mr. Nin lived in the building at 1961 Scheifflin Avenue. He stated to Detective Jones that he heard shots fired, and then looked out of his window. He saw a black male carrying what appeared to be a shotgun near the victim who was lying in the street. Mr. Nin described the shooter as wearing a burgundy or red hooded sweatshirt with the hood over his head, and otherwise dressed in dark clothing.
Marguerite Martin’s testimony casts further suspicion on Christine Holloway. According to Marguerite Martin, Christine Holloway confided that she had never really gotten a good look at the person doing the shooting because it was too dark, his hood was too tightly worn around his head, and the entire incident happened too quickly. Martin also testified that Christine Holloway told her she was being pressured by the police to testify. It should be noted that at trial, Christine Holloway’s demeanor during cross-examination was hostile and defensive. Her responses to Mr. Markstein’s questions were guarded and she often was resistant to elaborate on her answers.
III. Further Basis for Reasonable Doubt
Mark Johnson, the victim of the shooting on October 9, 1991, had a criminal history. He had been paroled recently for a homicide conviction from a case in 1983. Following Mark Johnson’s death, the police declined to investigate any individuals connected to the family of the victim of the 1983 homicide. Why not?
During my first visit with Shane at Green Haven on May 21, 2004, I asked him why he thought the police had targeted him for the crime. Shane explained to me that a year or so before the shooting he had a “run-in” with police in his neighborhood. According to Shane, he and a friend were approached by a man who turned out to be an undercover narcotics officer. The man repeatedly asked Shane if he (Shane) “ had anything to sell him”. Shane replied that he did not. After several similar exchanges, Shane became agitated and started to walk away. Before he could walk a full block, Shane was surrounded by police cars. The undercover officer pointed to Shane saying, “there’s the wiseguy” or something to that effect. Shane was arrested, and told me that at the precinct he was struck in the face several times by the same undercover officer. A photo was taken, with the right side of Shane’s face swollen and puffy. (This same photo was part of the photo array shown to Christine Holloway). Beginning with this incident, Shane believes that the police viewed him as a “troublemaker”. This could possibly account for the police wanting to look at Shane for the shooting of Mark Johnson.
Shane Watson was arrested on October 15, 1991. No weapon was recovered, and the NYPD did not issue a search warrant for Shane’s apartment. He arrest resulted from a call to the Crimestopper’s hotline. For two years, Shane appeared at every hearing. He maintained his innocence throughout the process, as he does to this day. On April 24, 1992, Shane voluntarily took a polygraph test. During the pre-test interview, Shane stated that he knew the victim. The results of the test indicated no deception, and the administrator of the test, Mr. Nat Laurendi, concluded that Shane’s answers were truthful.
This is a reflection of my very first meeting with Shane in May of 2004.
TWO GATHERED IN HIS NAME
Green Haven Correctional Facility
May 21, 2004
The first letter I received from Shane Watson came to me about a week before Christmas in 2003. Shane responded to a letter I wrote to him a couple of weeks earlier. I came to get Shane’s contact information from a radio program on WBAI-FM. The program is called “Al Lewis Live”, featuring Al Lewis himself, who most people know as “Grandpa” from the 1960’s TV sitcom “The Munsters”. Now in his 90’s, Al Lewis continues to be an advocate for progressive causes. The program features Al and his wife Karen, generally speaking out against injustices of all kinds, but focused on political activity in the New York City region. A favorite target of Al’s was former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who since 9/11 has been canonized by the mainstream media as an “outstanding leader”, etc. Before his ascension to sainthood, Giuliani generally encouraged thug-like police tactics, racial profiling and other similar mobster-like activities as Mayor. “Grandpa” Al would lash out at “that piece of crap Giuliani” in those days, along with his secondary favorite target, “Governor George Potatohead Pataki.” Grandpa also continues to advocate for those oppressed by the racist criminal justice system, and as part of this genre offered listeners the opportunity to become penpals of sorts for inmates wishing to correspond to people on the outside. So I sent in a letter offering to correspond with someone in prison, and received a postcard with Shane Watson’s name and address.
Shane’s first letter to me was dated December 17, 2003. “It was a surprise and a blessing to hear from someone taking out of their time to write to someone in my predicament. T is always encouraging as well.” He wrote that he was the father of three boys and a girl. One of his sons, Jason was in a juvenile detention center in the Bronx, because “he is taking my situation the hardest.” Then Shane hinted at his circumstances briefly: “I have been incarcerated for 10 long years now for a crime I didn’t commit, so it’s extra harder to deal with especially during these times (holidays) but to me all time is depressing.”
As months passed Shane and I continued our correspondence. I finally asked about his case, and as usual, received a reply fairly promptly. Shane outlined the basics of the case to me clearly and without a sense of anger or malice. I think it was this particular letter, dated January 28, 2004, which had the strongest impact on me. Even within a four-page letter I understood the basic details of Shane’s case enough to clearly sense that something was wrong. I had some reservations, naturally. Was this the entire story? What details had he omitted? I needed more substantial information. Intuitively I felt that Shane was telling the truth, but I needed to determine this for myself. I wrote and asked for any documentation he had.
Within a week I received a medium-sized package at my home, which contained practically the entire transcript of Shane’s 1993 trial in the Bronx. There were roughly 1,000 pages of transcripts. Many of the pages were wrinkled, and felt as if they had been left out in the rain. The text was very legible, however. Reading through the transcripts took several attempts on my part. I wanted to be clear about the significance of every statement, every ruling by the judge (the husband of “Judge Judy”, Gerald Sheindlin). I highlighted key responses, mostly those offered through cross-examination by Shane’s defense lawyer Paul Markstein. Combined with what Shane had told me about the case, the picture began to become clearer for me. I needed more, though, and decided to contact Paul Markstein.
Markstein has an office in Blauvelt, NY. I still am not sure where that is, but managed to locate his telephone number and address. I decided to first send a letter to him, and looking back now this was probably the first practical step I have taken towards trying to find a way to have Shane’s case re-examined. After a week or two, I called Mr. Markstein, as I had not received any response from my letter.
Our conversation began on a strained note. Mr. Markstein seemed terse, and confused as to my intentions. I did not relay to him that I was also confused, not really sure why I had written, except to initiate some kind of action on Shane’s behalf. After a few moments, however, Markstein was on a roll. He passionately described his frustration at the time of the trial. He felt that the judge precluded him from asking some very pertinent questions, mainly having to do with the key witness for the prosecution, Christine Holloway. “What can be done now?” I asked. “I am sure that by now Shane has exhausted all of his state appeals. At this point I imagine that his only chance would be in a Federal Appeals court. However, a Federal Appeals court is very reluctant to overturn a jury verdict.” Markstein also thought that what was necessary, in spite of the long odds against any hope of an appeal, was for an investigator to question the main witness (Holloway). “I am certain that if this trial had been managed differently Shane would have been acquitted”, he said. Before ending our conversation, Mr. Markstein asked me to “wish him well” and offered to speak with any attorney who might become involved in future appeal hearings. Although there was little to become hopeful about, I felt strangely encouraged by having spoken with Paul Markstein. After ten years, his recollection of the case was razor sharp, and it was obvious to me that he felt passionately that Shane had been wrongfully convicted.
I continued to write to Shane, as well as other people and organizations that might take interest in his case. My girlfriend Lori and I went to see a play in New Haven, which opened a new path. The play, “The Exonerated” is a dramatic reading of actual trial testimony and personal letters from people on Death Row, who eventually were cleared and released from prison. In some cases, these people had spent decades in state prison. I sent an e-mail to the producer of the play, explaining Shane’s situation, and asking for some guidance. He replied that I should look into “Centurion Ministries”, an organization that actively works on cases of people wrongfully convicted. I wrote to Shane about this. “I have been writing to Centurion Ministries for years” he replied. I inferred that nothing had been accomplished, although I did not know any more than that.
In May, I felt it was time to visit Shane in person, and I wrote to him asking about the visiting schedule. I decided to make the drive on May 21, a Friday.
Green Haven Correctional Facility is located in Duchess County, New York, in a town called Stormville. It is roughly 60 miles north of New York City, set in a very rural area marked by sprawling farms. Driving from Milford, CT I took Route 84 to the Taconic Parkway. From the Taconic I got onto Route 216, a two-lane road that winds through a very rural area. After passing several farms and small houses set back from the road, I suddenly saw the wooden sign at the entrance to the prison. I turned into the driveway, and immediately saw the immense prison complex. It is simply a rectangular gray wall, probably two stories high, stretching out for 400 yards or so. At either end of the wall stand guard towers, jutting up from the ground, the top of which being glass enclosed. I could see the silhouettes of the guards inside the tower closest to where I parked. My first mistake was parking in a restricted area. The parking spaces were numbered, which would indicate that they were assigned spaces, however there were no signs anywhere. The other cars parked there were of varied styles; I did not see any official looking vehicles, so I pulled into space number 68. It was about 10 AM on Friday morning, and as I understood it, visiting hours lasted until 2:00. I had brought a notebook and a pen in order to take some notes of my meeting with Shane. I also brought a camera, although my gut feeling was that I would not be allowed to bring it inside. This instinct was confirmed rather quickly. After exiting my car, I walked to an area in front of the main entrance. There, on a grassy area beneath a flagpole was a memorial headstone and flowers. In 1981, a corrections officer who worked at Green Haven was murdered while on duty. Her name was Donna Payant. I remember watching a Court TV program about her murder, and the implication that she was killed by another CO rather than by an inmate. I took out my digital camera and started to take a photograph, when a guard from the tower behind me yelled down to me.
“Excuse me, sir! What are you doing?”
I turned around and looked up.
“Taking a picture” I answered.
“First of all”, the guard yelled, “no pictures are allowed. Second of all you can’t park your car over there. What are you here for?”
I closed the lens of the camera.
“I’m here to visit.”
“You have to move your car. And no pictures”.
I walked back to my car, got in and put the camera down in my brief case. As I pulled the car out of the parking spot, a station wagon with flashing lights approached my car, stopping directly in front of me. I rolled the window down. There were two guards in the car. The driver got out, and approached me.
“What are you doing here?”
“Visiting” I answered.
The guard looked at me suspiciously.
“Did you take any photos?”
“Where are you from?”
He paused, then told me to park in the visitor’s lot. I drove about 100 yards away and found a space in front of the right hand side of the huge prison wall.
I walked into the entrance area. It looked somewhat like an airport terminal. I had brought some clothes for Shane; he asked for sweatpants with pockets, T-shirts with pockets, and cookies. I handed the bag to the officer behind the receiving desk. He asked for my name and a picture ID. He then looked through the bag.
“These colors are not permitted”, he said.
I had brought Shane a pair of black, navy and gray sweatpants. These same colors were not permitted to be given to the prisoners. I also had brought a red T-shirt, as well as a black, gray, and navy T-shirt. So the only item Shane would be allowed to receive was the one red T-shirt. He also was able to receive the cookies.
From the receiving desk I then approached a check-in point. The female guard at this checkpoint was on the telephone. I was the only person waiting, and she was talking to someone, obviously a friend, about how she did not feel well. I waited, and began to get annoyed with her. I gazed to the left, and through a large window saw a church steeple in the distance. The woman finally acknowledged me, but did not hang up the phone.
“Who are you here to see?”, she asked. I told her.
Here I again needed to show ID, and walk through a metal detector. The woman at this checkpoint told me that I could not bring in my notebook. Also, the pen I had brought was a solid blue ballpoint pen. Only clear pens were permitted.
“Can I just bring in a few sheets of paper?” asked.
“No. The only item you are allowed to bring is a Bible”.
I asked whether someone in the visiting area might have some paper. She called inside, and spoke to someone who said that they had some paper that I could use.
“And a pen?” I asked.
“They have pens and pencils; no problem.”
I walked through the metal detector after taking off my shoes. From here I gathered my wallet and keys, and proceeded to a metal door. There another guard stamped my left hand with an invisible infrared stamp of some kind. The door opened, and another set of doors appeared behind the solid metal door. This door looked like the door of a prison cell, as it was a barred door. I approached this door, and another guard behind a glass window motioned to me to hold my left hand underneath a purple-glowing light, which I did. The stamp was illuminated, and the barred door opened.
I walked straight ahead into an open courtyard. Directly in front of me was a building, which I entered. There were two guards seated behind an old wooden desk. I showed them the visitor’s pass given to me by the woman at the checkpoint. They motioned to another door to the right, through which I walked down a long corridor. At the end there was another door, with a large red buzzer on the left-hand side near the handle. A sign instructed me to press the button, and wait to be buzzed in. I pressed the button, and in a few seconds a buzzing sound emanated from the large door. I turned the handle and walked into another corridor, with a glass wall. Here was the “New” visiting room. I immediately felt the cold air from the air-conditioner. Inside this room were probably 15-20 cafeteria-like tables, and lots of plastic chairs scattered about. I walked down the corridor, to another checkpoint with a tall metal desk. A male guard, probably in his mid-thirties took my pass, and motioned me into the visiting area. It was a large room, and again I thought of a college cafeteria. There were several soda machines against either wall. At the back of the room, a large window looked out into an enclosed courtyard, which contained six or seven large picnic tables. There were inmates and visitors sitting outside, some walking around in the courtyard. I found a small table with two chairs in the middle of the visiting room, and sat down. I thought about going outside, because it was cold inside. I was very nervous.
As I sat at the table I looked around, wondering if Shane Watson was already here looking for me. The inmates all wore both light green shirts and khaki green pants, or a prison jumpsuit, also green, with their names and ID numbers on the shirts. I had a vague idea of what Shane looked like. Among the police reports and trial transcripts he had sent to me were copies of the photo arrays shown to three witnesses. Shane’s photo was in the array. The copies were of poor quality, and it was difficult to make out any distinctive facial features. Also, the photo had been taken ten years ago.
I waited at the table and took in the atmosphere. There were many young children in the room, along with women, and some older family members and relatives. Every person was either black, or Hispanic, with the exception of an Italian family at the next table. For the most part, conversations seemed to be fairly relaxed. At a table to my left, roughly 20 feet away, an older man sat with a young man, who looked like he was in his twenties. I sensed that their conversation was forced, and uncomfortable. The younger man glanced away often, and his right foot shook nervously. The older man seemed to be searching for something to talk about. The concept of “visitation” seemed to create discomfort for these two people. The stress of the controlled environment was intensified by this regulated forced intimacy. The older man started to laugh and pointed to a tear in his jacket sleeve. The younger man smiled politely and glanced around again.
I waited longer, convinced that Shane was not here yet. I noticed a doorway near the guard’s table, which would open periodically. An inmate emerged, and seemed to recognize someone at the table behind me. He walked by me, glancing at me quickly and then embraced a young woman. I felt a sudden impulse to flee, to get out of here. I started to feel inadequate and angry that I had come here at all. What’s the point of this? I thought.
About ten minutes later, Shane walked in. He smiled shyly as he approached the table.
“Shane?” I asked, standing up.
“Yeah”, he answered.
“It’s good to see you,” I said.
Shane shook my hand and patted me on the shoulder. We sat down. Shane was about my height, maybe a little taller. He had a trimmed beard and moustache. He wore a green jumpsuit. I told him about the problem with the camera.
“No, no”, he said. "You can’t bring a camera in here”.
While we talked, he often would look around the room. I felt that he listened intently to me regardless.
“I have a lot of questions for you. I want to know more about you and the case so that I can speak intelligently about everything”, I said.
Over the next two and half-hours, I asked Shane about his family, especially his children. We talked about the case, and he filled in some blanks for me regarding the sequence of events. I asked about his routine in prison. Shane answered my questions very deliberately and carefully. At times he seemed to have trouble expressing himself; he seemed to want very much to be understood. Some aspects of the trial involved subtleties, which were difficult to describe to someone who was not there. Several times he would have trouble finishing an explanation, and if I threw out a word or phrase to try and help, he would respond excitedly, saying “Yeah, yeah yeah!” glad that the idea got through to me.
Shane told me he grew up in the Bronx with his parents and six siblings. He has three brothers: Scott, Floyd, and Clayton. He also has three sisters: Antoinette, Yvonne, and Patricia. I asked him about his relationship with his father.
“We never did much together, like going to ball games or things like that. Sometimes we would all go to the movies, but my father and me….”
He stopped and seemed to be thinking, or remembering.
“Were you and your father close?” I asked
Shane drew in a deep breath, and exhaled slowly.
“No, not too close. But I don’t hold it against him. He did the best he could. He got to drinking too much, and that caused a lot of problems.”
“Do you hear from your parents now?”
“They moved south in 1998, to Virginia. My mother calls sometimes, and she came to visit about a month ago. She brought my oldest son, Shane Jr., Jason, and Shana. Shane Jr. is bigger than I am now.”
He showed me a photo taken just a few weeks earlier. In the photo, Shane stood alongside a tall, slender boy. It was his oldest son. In another picture taken in 1998, the same boy stood beside his father, but was probably a foot shorter.
“All this time in here, I worry about my children. My son Jason especially. He is in a detention center now, because he got messed up with some people doing drugs and stuff in the Bronx. But Shane seems to be doing OK now. He lives with his grandmother on 125th Street, and as far as I know he’s doing pretty good. I just want him to know that I love him, and that I am sorry that I’m not around for him right now.”
“Did you tell him that?” I asked.
“Yeah, I told him, and I write to him, but I don’t know if I should. I wonder if he wants to hear from me, so I think I should wait and let him reach out to me.”
“Tell him anyway” I said. “I feel the same way with my son.”
Shane smiled a little. “Big Matt” he said.
“Yeah, big Matt. Sometimes I don’t know if he wants to hear from me either.”
We talked a lot about the case. Shane had a clear folder with him containing a few letters and some police reports from his case. One letter was from a private investigator in the Bronx, whom Shane’s family wanted to hire to contact the prosecution witnesses regarding their testimony. Shane’s mother had already taken out a $30,000 homeowner’s loan in order to post bail after Shane’s arrest. There was not enough money to hire the investigator. The letter was written in May 2001. Like all of the other documents, Shane carefully preserved it. He told me about an online magazine, Justice Denied, and how a reporter from the magazine had received his letters proclaiming his innocence. I took the name of the reporter, as well as the private investigator.
I asked Shane if he knew Mark Johnson, the man shot to death on October 9, 1991.
“I knew him from around the neighborhood, but that’s about it.” he said
I asked Shane about Christine Holloway, and the James’ sisters. These were the three witnesses that the prosecution relied on the most for a conviction.
What struck me about his responses was the absence of any anger or resentment. Shane was frustrated and sad, for the most part. I asked if he would seek any punishment for these witnesses, should there ever be a successful appeal.
“No, no, no…people make mistakes. I made mistakes, but we all have to go on and live our lives. I just want to get on with my life. I have been here almost eleven years now. I don’t hold nothing against them, but they should just step up and do what’s right.”
He looked off into the distance.
I asked Shane about his routine. He told me that he woke up at 4:30 each morning. He would do some exercises, and then say some prayers, or read the Bible. He listened to a radio program called “Morning Glory” on KISS-FM. It was a gospel music program. At 6:30 he would eat, and at 7:20 he would go to his job. Shane called his job “industry”. He worked as a furniture assembler, for a company called Corcraft. Shane would attach the upholstery to chairs, as well as assemble furniture.
“How much do you get paid?” I asked.
“45 cents an hour. But to start I got 16 cents an hour.”
Shane resides in D Block. He told me that it was an “honor block”. The inmates in D Block had some extra privileges, due to good behavior. He could stay up a little later, for one. He also was allowed a shower daily, whereas most inmates only were allowed to shower every other day.
It was around 1:00 when I told Shane that I had to start heading back. He stood up quickly, abruptly. We walked to the guard’s desk area. Shane stopped, and asked me about the sweatpants and T-shirts. I told him about my bringing the wrong colors. He laughed. He had written to me to bring Green, Burgundy or Brown. I misinterpreted this as just a suggestion.
“How do you want to handle that?” he asked. I thought this was a funny question.
I told him I would exchange the sweats for the right colors.
“Well, God willing, if you can come back sometime, maybe you can bring them.”
“I’ll send them to you. And I’ll come back too.”
Shane turned and headed toward the door behind the guard’s desk. I had to show the guard my pass, and then Shane was allowed to proceed back to his cell.
“Thank you. God bless you,” he said. And he walked away.
I headed down the corridor back towards the main building. I had to wait at a locked door until the guard there received a call that Shane was back in his cellblock. After about ten minutes the call came. The door was opened and I walked out of the visiting area, into the main building, and out the door. The wall loomed large as I made my way back to my car.
Passing through Stormville on the way back to the highway I thought back on the past few hours. I regretted not offering to say a prayer with Shane before leaving.