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‘He Had 32 Years Of His Life Taken Away:’ Court Vacates Sentence Of New York Man Wrongly Accused In 1989 Shooting
"I'm not even angry that a mistake was made, but I'm not very pleased that it took 31 years to fix it,” Carlton Roman said in court.
A Queens man was exonerated after spending more than three decades behind bars in the deadly shooting of his close friend, which he was wrongly accused of masterminding.
Carlton Roman, 59, who was convicted in the fatal 1989 shooting of Lloyd Witter, was freed this week after a review of the case by the Queens District Attorney’s Office found key evidence was withheld during his trial. Queens Supreme Court Justice Michelle Johnson vacated all charges against him on Monday, according to QNS.
“[It feels] absolutely fabulous,” Roman said as he departed the courtroom, NY1 reported. “It's been 31 years and anybody here can imagine what it feels like to be literally in hell and this is my first ten minutes out here.”
On March 16, 1989, Witter and Jomo Kenyatta sustained several gunshot wounds at a property in Jamaica, Queens. Witter died from his injuries. Kenyatta survived and has been using a wheelchair since the incident. Paul Anderson, who also lived at the residence, was found bound with telephone wire and handcuffed near Witter’s body.
Under questioning, both Kenyatta and Anderson pinpointed Roman as the gunman. Yet no forensic, ballistic, fingerprint, or DNA evidence tied him to the shooting. Nevertheless, he was charged with murder and attempted murder in the deadly shooting.
Roman claimed he’d been with his girlfriend on the night of Witter’s murder, an alibi that she corroborated. Despite maintaining his innocence throughout the trial, Roman was convicted solely on Kenyatta and Anderson’s testimony. He was sentenced to more than 43 years in prison in 1990. At the time, Roman, who is Black, was a graduate student who had no criminal history.
Decades passed before prosecutors seriously revisited Roman’s conviction, having passed on his formal requests to reexamine the case both in 2013 and 2018.
In 2020, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz’s Integrity Unit reopened an investigation into the case. His conviction had already begun to unravel a year earlier as officials began to poke holes in past witness testimony.
Anderson recanted his previous court testimony implicating Roman as the gunman. He admitted to falsely accusing Roman, noting he hadn’t seen him at the house on the day of the shooting. Detectives said Anderson provided at least half a dozen distinctly different versions of the shooting.
Both Anderson and Kenyatta’s accounts were further discredited by a trio of new witnesses who undermined their original testimony. A retired police officer, who documented Anderson’s original description of the shooter told investigators that that description he recorded didn’t match that of Roman. This wasn’t disclosed during Roman’s trial, according to prosecutors.
Furthermore, Kenyatta also led investigators to suspect Witter’s shooting may have been fueled by narcotics dealings. He allegedly used a host of aliases to conceal his own illicit drug-related activity and downplayed his criminal history during the trial.
The newly revealed testimony and evidence, prosecutors contended, likely would have resulted in Roman’s acquittal decades ago.
"I'm not even angry that a mistake was made, but I'm not very pleased that it took 31 years to fix it,” Roman said during the hearing. He also urged local media to cover other cases of wrongfully accused individuals.
"I'm here now, but there are a lot of people in there that need your help and need your attention,” Roman said, addressing reporters. "To my brothers in there, man, fighting for justice. I salute you all. Stand strong and never give up."
Prosecutors formally apologized to Roman during Monday’s proceedings.
"Nothing I can say can give you back the 32 years that were taken,” Katz, the Queens District Attorney, said in court.
Roman is now focused on adjusting to life outside prison, according to his legal team.
“It’s really a great win,” James Henning, Roman’s attorney, told Oxygen.com on Wednesday. “We’re ecstatic. It was somewhat of an uphill battle.”
Henning described his client as an “exemplary human being.” Roman plans to start his own business, travel, and make up for lost time with family, according to his lawyer. Roman cooked dinner for his mother for the first time on Tuesday evening, Henning said.
“He had 32 years of his life taken away,” Henning added.
Roman’s legal team is currently preparing two separate civil suits seeking unspecified damages against city officials, including police and prosecutors, as well as the state of New York. Henning expects the suits to be filed in the coming weeks.
“If he were tried today on the same evidence, no jury would have convicted," Henning said. "Even without the newly discovered evidence, we have now. It was just such a bare-bones ridiculous story given by these witnesses, they couldn’t even keep the most minor details consistent.”