A wrongly-convicted man was cleared of all charges in a Queens courtroom Thursday in the 2013 murder of a 14-year-old girl headed home from a Sweet 16 party, with his lawyers charging prosecutors and police rigged the investigation.
Brooklyn man Shamel Capers, now 24, was behind bars since his July 2014 arrest in the killing of honor student D’Aja Robinson and subsequent convictions for murder and criminal possession of a weapon.
Prosecutors alleged Capers fired several shots into a city bus where the girl was sitting, but his attorneys said coerced witness testimony and withheld evidence led to his trial and a 15-year sentence.
“For there to be justice in the criminal justice system, and public faith in its outcomes, it is incumbent on prosecutors to follow the facts wherever they lead,” said Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz, who filed a motion to vacate Capers’ two convictions.
Evidence clearing Capers in the homicide was never provided to his attorney, and a key witness in the case recanted his testimony after alleging he was pressured by prosecutors into identifying the innocent man, said the defendant’s lawyers from the firm of Debevoise & Plimpton.
Investigators for the newly-released man “uncovered serious misconduct by prosecutors and detectives that led to Mr. Capers’ wrongful conviction,” his lawyers said. An eyewitness identified a second man to police and prosecutors as the shooter who fired all 10 bullets into the bus, according to Katz, with Capers nevertheless arrested.
The Queens DA’s Conviction Integrity Unit was notified in mid-2020, with the prosecutors agreeing to investigate the case and finally clearing Capers after a two-year probe.
The late Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, whose office had earlier convicted a second man in the slaying, said at the time that the shooting was gang-related.
Capers was found guilty at a 2017 trial of shooting the teen in the head, four years after co-defendant Kevin McClinton was arrested one month after the killing while on the lam in South Carolina.
McClinton, then 22, was affiliated with a local gang and convicted of second-degree murder in the shooting, authorities said.
According to his attorneys, Capers was identified by the actual gunman as firing at the bus in Jamaica. The victim was sitting in a window seat when struck and killed.
The slain teen’s grandmother said Thursday the exoneration brought back bad memories for her family.
“We are disgusted with the whole thing,” said Cheryl Sands, 65. “It’s reopening an old wound … This is a travesty of justice.”
Sands said she couldn’t sleep after learning this past Monday that Capers would be cleared in the killing of her grandchild, adding the girl’s mom was reeling at the news.
“It’s really a sad thing they did to her,” said Sands. “She’s been through a lot. They treated her like she was nothing, like she was a piece of dirt.”
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