May 11, 2022 (Washington, DC) Today, MAIP client Rodney Brown was released from D.C. Jail after spending more than 27 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. He is the 42nd innocent person we’ve helped free.
With the assistance of our partners at the Second Look Project, Maggie Birkel and James Zeigler, Rodney was released under a Washington D.C. law that helps ensure that people convicted of crimes committed when they were children do not spend the rest of their lives in prison.
Late last month, Judge Jason Park granted Rodney’s Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act (IRAA) motion, finding he was not a danger to the community and that the interests of justice found in favor of re-sentencing. Today, Rodney was re-sentenced from 111 years – life in prison to time served plus probation.
His release today does not exonerate Rodney, but it brings him home to his family. In the meantime, MAIP staff attorney, Maggie Abernethy, is working with our extraordinary co-counsel at Baker Botts to fully exonerate Rodney under the D.C. Innocence Protection Act (IPA). We are hopeful that after an upcoming hearing on this claim, we will be able to fully clear his name.
The day after Thanksgiving in 1994, Andre Newton was shot dead, and several others were injured near the parking lot of the Benning Terrace Public Housing Project in S.E. Washington, DC – an area colloquially known as “Simple City.” Andre Newton’s death was part of a string of violent gang-related deaths in Southeast D.C. in the mid-1990s.
No weapons or physical evidence linking any shooters to the scene was ever recovered. Rodney “June” Brown (our client) and Leonard “Dink” Bishop (co-defendant) were arrested for the shooting, convicted based solely on eyewitness testimony, and were sentenced to life in prison. Many reasons exist to doubt the veracity of the eyewitness testimony presented at trial, including the existence of witness payments, plea deals, and coercive interrogation tactics utilized by the government. The jury deliberated for longer than a week before rendering its verdict.
Rodney wrote to MAIP on October 29, 2008, and we began working on his case in 2018 alongside Baker Botts and Rodney’s original trial counsel, Tom Heslep. Through our efforts, new witnesses have come forward with significant exculpatory information. A key government eyewitness signed an affidavit recanting their trial testimony. Multiple sworn statements have been collected from witnesses stating that a member of a rival gang faction was (one of) the shooters and confessed to it afterward. Lastly, new eyewitnesses have come forward saying they witnessed the shooting and that the shooters were not Rodney or Leonard Bishop.
On January 17, 2020, we filed a motion in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia asking the Court to vacate the conviction or to grant a new trial on the ground of actual innocence based on new evidence. The government filed an opposing motion, but conceded that an evidentiary hearing was warranted. This hearing is currently scheduled for July 11-13, 2022.
Founded in 2000, the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project corrects and prevents the conviction of innocent people in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. We are one of the most successful of the 56 innocence organizations in the country. We have helped to secure the release and/or exoneration of 42 innocent men who spent a total of 837 years in prison for crimes they did not do. We have also helped pass 19 laws that help improve the criminal justice system.