On August 8, 1993, 23-year-old Wayne Ballard stopped at the intersection of 2nd Street and Massachusetts Avenue N.W. Another car pulled up to the driver’s side of Ballard’s car and a gunman fired several shots into Ballard’s car. Ballard was fatally shot in the head.
Almost immediately, police suspected that 17-year-old Gary Gathers was involved in the shooting. Ballard had told police that he saw Gathers’ brother, Gregory, fatally shoot Carlton Gillis on June 14, 1993, and police believed that Gary Gathers was retaliating. At the time Ballard was shot, Gregory Gathers was awaiting trial on a charge of first-degree murder.
In September 1993, police arrested Gary Gathers and 18-year-old Keith Mitchell on charges of first-degree murder and illegal use of a weapon after 17-year-old Eric Lindsay, who was riding in the car with Ballard, identified Gathers as the gunman and Mitchell as the driver.
In 1994, a jury convicted Gary Gathers and Keith Mitchell of the first-degree murder of Wayne Ballard and illegal use of firearm. Each was sentenced to 36 years to life in prison.
In 2011 Lindsay recanted his identification of Gathers and Mitchell and said he had falsely implicated them because he was angry about the murders of Carlton Gillis and Ballard. He said he identified Gathers because of Ballard’s cooperation against Gregory Gathers and he identified Mitchell because he knew Mitchell frequently hung around with Gary Gathers.
Also in 2011 at a hearing, the defense presented police reports that had never been revealed to the trial attorneys for Gathers and Mitchell. The reports described an ongoing feud between drug dealers who operated in the 900 and 1000 blocks of Wahler Place. The 900 Wahler crew, as police called them, included Ballard, Lindsay and as well as Darnell Smith and Kevin Jones. The feud began when Gary Gathers’ uncle, Ronald Gathers, who was associated with the 1000 Wahler crew, robbed members of the 900 Wahler crew. In retaliation, Ronald Gathers was fatally shot in September 1992. Smith was suspected as the gunman, according to the reports.
“It is markedly disquieting to think that appellants should stand convicted on what is plainly false evidence highly prejudicial to the outcome where the government knew or should have known of the falsity, however belatedly this falsity may have come to the forefront,” the appeals court said.
In some cases, government officials take steps to ensure that a defendant is convicted despite weak evidence or even clear proof of innocence.