Debevoise & Plimpton LLP has secured an important win on behalf of pro bono client Shamel Capers, overturning his wrongful conviction for second degree murder, and freeing him after eight years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
Mr. Capers had been imprisoned since his arrest in July 2014, at the age of 16, on murder charges stemming from a gang-related shooting in May 2013. Following a dispute outside a sweet sixteen party at a nightclub in Queens, New York, approximately ten shots were fired into a parked bus, tragically killing a teenager on the bus. The sole shooter was identified by multiple eyewitnesses and arrested for the murder in June 2013. When confronted by NYPD detectives, the shooter tried to pass blame on Mr. Capers, who was near the bus at the time of the shooting, by falsely claiming Mr. Capers fired some of the shots. The actual shooter was indicted and convicted for the crime. Mr. Capers was not arrested until a year after the actual shooter’s arrest, after another witness—facing multiple unrelated charges—was pressured into falsely implicating Mr. Capers by claiming to have seen him also fire at the bus. The testimony of this witness—together with another cooperating witness who claimed to have seen Mr. Capers with a gun earlier that day—was the only evidence linking Mr. Capers to the shooting. Mr. Capers was convicted and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.
The Debevoise team was originally retained to file a direct appeal on behalf of Mr. Capers. But when Mr. Capers consistently and adamantly maintained his innocence, the Debevoise team shifted gears and undertook an extensive investigation. This investigation unearthed new evidence that demonstrated Mr. Capers was innocent. The team also uncovered serious misconduct by the prosecutors and detectives that led to Mr. Capers’ wrongful conviction. The key cooperating witness recanted key portions of his testimony implicating Mr. Capers and claimed his false testimony was the result of pressure from the prosecutors, detectives and his own lawyer. The team also discovered exculpatory grand jury testimony from another witness that was never turned over by the prosecutors to defense counsel.
The Debevoise team presented its findings to the Queens County District Attorney’s Office (QCDA) Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU), which agreed to investigate Mr. Capers’ case in mid-2020. After a two-year investigation by the CIU, which was assisted by the Debevoise team at every step, the QCDA agreed to vacate Mr. Capers’ conviction and dismiss the underlying indictment, with prejudice. Earlier today, after spending eight years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Mr. Capers walked out of court a free man.
The Debevoise team was led by litigation partner Winston Paes and included associates Jane Chung, Elizabeth Costello, Marissa Kibler, Jonathan Mangel, Anna Rennich and Ben Stadler.
The case was brought to the firm by Getting Out Staying Out, an organization which helps formerly incarcerated young men achieve financial independence and personal success through educational progress, gainful employment and comprehensive social services.