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State Supreme Court court reverses 1995 New London murder conviction

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The state Supreme Court issued an opinion Monday that reverses the conviction of a New London man serving a 50-year sentence for his role in the 1995 murder of 18-year-old Darrell Wattley Jr.

The June 29 opinion in the case of Jamie R. Gomez also decisively addresses, for Connecticut courts, the question of whether prosecutors are required to correct erroneous statements made by witnesses during trials.

The court ordered  a new trial for Gomez, who was 22 when, according to court documents and news stories, he accompanied Anthony Booth, Danny Brown and James "Tiny" Smith, all members of 20 Love Gang, to 93 State Pier Road on July 13, 1995.

Wattley was shot four times, stabbed four times and had his throat slit.

The ruling in Gomez's case could have implications for Booth and Brown, who were tried and convicted by the same jury as Gomez. Both men have had their appeals denied and are serving sentences of 60 and 55 years, respectively.

In the Gomez case, five members of the Supreme Court voted unanimously, and Justice Christine S. Vertefeuille wrote the decision that indicates that Gomez's rights to due process were violated because the prosecutor, Paul Murray, who has since retired, failed to notify the jury that two key witnesses had provided false or misleading testimony.

Smith, who had faced murder charges of his own, and Angeline Valentin, charged as an accessory to first-degree assault because she had alerted the men that Wattley was going to be at her apartment that night, had agreed to testify for the state in exchange for leniency with their own charges.  

But when questioned during the trial, both Smith and Valentin said they had been promised nothing. Though defense attorneys challenged their statements during cross-examination, the Supreme Court ruling indicates that prosecutors have the duty to correct such issues even if defense attorneys are aware of them. Murray did not do so during his closing argument to the jury, according to the court records.  

New London State's Attorney Michael L. Regan said his office and the Chief State's Attorney's Office are reviewing the decision and that he couldn't comment further. The state has several options, including appealing the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, attempting to negotiate a plea deal with Wattley based on the ruling, or retrying the case, which could prove difficult due the passage of time.

According to The Day archives, the men were retaliating against Wattley for assaulting Smith at a party the week before.

Gomez, now 47 and serving his sentence at the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, has grown and matured since 1995, according to his attorney, Andrew P. O'Shea.

"He's such a great guy, a great client," O'Shea said. "He's been so patient through this whole process and is overwhelmed by this result."

O'Shea said there remains a question as to who actually shot Wattley. Court documents indicate that it was Brown who stabbed Wattley after he'd been shot, then bragged that he'd also robbed Wattley. Gomez drove all of the men from the scene in his girlfriend's car.  

Both Valentin and Smith received consideration for their testimony. Valentin was released on a written promise to appear and allowed to move to New Jersey while her case was pending. The final disposition of her case is unavailable. 

Murray recommended a 10-year sentence for Smith, and he ultimately received a 15-month sentence for second-degree manslaughter.

U.S. Supreme Court rulings state clearly that the state cannot knowingly present false testimony, but different decisions across the country have gone different ways, according to O'Shea. He said the Gomez ruling sets a precedent because the court clearly addressed the issue.

"This issue of the knowingness of false testimony has been coming up more and more, and the court, to its credit, has been knowingly addressing it and taking steps to address it," O'Shea said.

The Gomez decision notes that "defense attorneys share an obligation to ensure the trial is not tainted by evidence that falsely incriminates the defendant" but, ultimately, the prosecutor is in the best position to purge any damage that is done.

The victim's mother, Bernice Foy, died in 2012, but he is survived by several siblings. Wattley's older sister, Andrean Goode-Ward, said by phone Wednesday that she has not forgiven Gomez for his role in her brother's death, noting that even if he wasn't the shooter, he should have helped her brother.

Their families were close, Goode-Warde said, and Bernice Foy had named one of her daughters after Gomez's mother, Iris. She said she might feel differently if Gomez had ever shown remorse.

"Has he served enough time? No," she said by phone. "Maybe not the whole 50-year sentence, but not now."

k.florin@theday.com

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