Courthouse protest targets wrongful convictions in New Haven

NEW HAVEN — During Darcus Henry​’s 13-and-a-half years in prison, he would spend every possible minute at the law library with a group of nearly 15 other men who all maintained their innocence.

Together, they’d meet for the permitted hour every Tuesday and Thursday to read about court precedents, research their own cases, and exchange stories of pressured witnesses and suppressed evidence.

Six of those law library regulars — including Henry himself — have since won exonerations and left prison with cleared records.

On Wednesday, nearly a decade after he walked free, Henry stood in the wind outside the state courthouse at 235 Church St. to help lead a protest against wrongful convictions like his.

All the while, he thought of Maurice Blackwell, Cory Turner, and the others still researching in the prison library, hoping to prove their innocence.

Henry joined a group of other Black men in New Haven who have asserted and in many cases proven that their convictions were unjust outside the downtown courthouse on Wednesday. 

“I’m here to lend my voice,” he said. He also lent his story — of being one of four suspects charged in a December 1996 murder at the Farnam Courts housing complex, of being sentenced to 100 years in prison, and of being freed alongside his three friends in 2013.

Together with family members of people still incarcerated for crimes they say they never committed, Henry and other attendees on Wednesday amassed a group of 20 people. 

The group gathered to call for accountability for the cops and prosecutors who falsified or suppressed evidence, and for state prosecutors to reexamine cases that have not yet been overturned. 

A spokesperson for the state judicial branch declined to comment for this article. A representative from the state’s attorney’s office did not return a request for comment by the publication time of this article.

The protest was organized by Gaylord Salters, who spent 20 years in prison for a shooting he maintains he never committed. Salters got out of prison this summer due to a shortened sentence after the sole witness against him recanted. 

Local civil rights attorney Alex Taubes, who has represented many clients with similar stories, also organized the rally. 

Several protestors on Wednesday called on the state to investigate James Clark, the former prosecutor who tried Salters, Henry, Salters’ since-exonerated brother, and several others who have alleged corruption on the part of cops and prosecutors.

“We are desperately hoping that the Conviction Integrity Unit will hold up to its promise,” Salters told reporters, referring to a unit within the state’s Division of Criminal Justice tasked with reviewing claims of wrongful convictions. Salters’ own case is currently under review by the unit, following an affidavit from the state’s only witness in Salters’ case that police and prosecutors coerced his testimony.

“You have a duty to do the right thing,” said Henry. ​“I believe [that prosecutors] know who’s innocent and who’s not.”

Many of the protestors knew each other not only as fellow New Haveners impacted by wrongful convictions, but as close childhood friends and family who all happened to be targeted together. Henry and Salters, for instance, have been best friends since they were 9 years old. Salters’ brother, Johnny Johnson, was convicted and later exonerated of colluding with Henry. 

“A lot of us grew up together,” said Heshema Taylor, one of Henry’s closest friends who served as his alibi witness during the original trial. After testifying to his friend’s innocence in court, Taylor was convicted of perjury and served three years in prison. 

Now, even though Henry has been exonerated, the perjury conviction remains on Taylor’s record. Taylor wants a cleared slate. He said that when supervisors and colleagues have found out about the conviction, he senses that they started treating him differently. 

This story originally appeared on the website of The New Haven Independent,


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