Lloyd Brown did not murder Dale Smith.

Let me say that again so there will be no misunderstanding.

Lloyd Brown did not murder Dale Smith.

Oh, he was arrested for murder, all right-this 18-year-old Jamaican

emigrant living with his parents in Queens. He was fingered in a lineup by a

supposed eyewitness to the crime. He was indicted for murder two, which carries

a maximum of 25 years to life. And he was left in a cell on Rikers Island for

19 long months, until the Bronx district attorney's office finally got around

to dropping all charges in the case this week.

And now, in a rare about-face in such a serious case, Bronx District

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Attorney Robert Johnson is publicly conceding that this prosecution was fatally

flawed. Court papers detail a rat's nest of questionable police work, flimsy

evidence and justice far too long delayed.

In asking State Supreme Court Justice Denis Boyle to drop the charges,

Johnson's assistants acknowledge:

An utter "lack of physical evidence" against this young man from Queens.

The "questionable credibility of the eyewitness" on whom the entire case

was built.

A coerced identification during which a city homicide detective allegedly

threatened his one shaky witness: "Stop playing around and identify someone or

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you are going to be charged yourself."

And "grave concerns" by the victim's own mother about the DA's wobbly case.

The mother even offered prosecutors "a list of at least three other people who

may have killed her son," the court papers reveal.

"If he didn't do this and he sat in jail for 19 months, we do feel bad

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about that," said Mary D'Andrea, the district attorney's bureau chief who

supervised the case. "I understand my feeling bad doesn't make up for someone

sitting in jail for a crime he didn't commit, if that's what happened here. If

we had believed that 19 months ago, Mr. Brown would have been out back then."

So what actually happened here?

The strongest evidence, gathered by a private investigator for the defense,

suggests that Brown wasn't anywhere near the Bronx when Dale Smith was killed.

He was instead shopping with his family at the Green Acres Mall on Long

Island-and having an early dinner at a Friendly's restaurant.

As for young Lloyd Brown, he is looking back on his ordeal with an

extraordinary amount of grace.

"From the very first to the last, I said, 'I didn't do this,'" he recalled,

sitting in his lawyer's office on Queens Boulevard. "I was calm. I was quiet.

I never changed. That's just how I am."

At last, he is also free.

"I knew this day would come," he said. "I didn't know when. What I don't

understand is why it had to take so long."

***

The murder was ugly, as all murders are.

Dale Smith, 31, was shot six times in the abdomen and chest at 5:30 p.m. on

July 3, 1998. A Jamaican-born party promoter who'd earned several thousand

dollars on a big bash the week before, Smith died soon after he reached Our

Lady of Mercy Hospital.

The shooting occurred inside Smith's house on Pittman Avenue in the Bronx.

Police got a "shots fired" call from the beauty parlor across the street.

When officers screeched up to the house, they found a man named Elroy Evans

standing out on the porch, sipping a Heineken and chatting into a cell phone.

Evans told police quite a dramatic tale.

He said four bandits had driven up in a white Jeep with Connecticut plates.

Guns drawn, they announced a robbery, he said. Then they supposedly ordered

the two men inside, where they shot Smith many times and let Evans go unharmed.

Evans never called 911. By his own account, he did nothing to aid his dying

friend. And when police began questioning him, they noted he had more than

$1,000 in his pocket, which he later admitted having stolen from Dale Smith.

This is the man Bronx detectives and prosecutors constructed their case on.

He proceeded to make two IDs. He picked one mug shot out of a stack of

photos. When that man was put in a lineup, Evans failed to identify him.

That, Evans said later, is when the police detective told him to "stop

playing around and identify someone" or he would be charged with the crime.

Evans quickly picked out a second mug shot, a photo of Lloyd Brown. That

photo was on file because of Brown's one previous arrest, for a robbery case in

Queens that had been quickly dismissed.

Now he was being fingered for a murder.

And Evans stuck with his ID this time, picking Brown from a lineup as well.

***

Lloyd Brown was represented by Queens defense attorney Deron Castro. The

case was investigated by veteran private eye Artie Grix. They did not let their

client down.

"Every single step of the way," Castro said, "he behaved the way an

innocent person would. I'm satisfied with the result here. I'm not satisfied at

all with how long it took."

When detectives showed up at the Brown family house in Cambria Heights,

young Lloyd was visiting a cousin in Brooklyn. When his mother phoned, he

immediately drove back to meet the detectives in Queens.

When they asked him to join them back at the station house, he answered,

"Sure."

When they told he him he was being charged with a murder, he could not

believe his ears.

"I had been to the Bronx a total of five times in my life," he said. "Now

they were saying I had killed somebody there. I thought I was in a dream."

More like a nightmare.

Soon enough though, private investigator Grix was poking holes in the

prosecutor's evidence and confirming elements of his client's alibi.

Grix worked the neighborhood around Pittman Avenue. He interviewed the

women in the beauty parlor and others on he street. He dug into the background

of Elroy Evans, which raised a thousand questions about him. He canvassed the

Green Acres Mall, where Brown, his parents and his sister all said they'd been

shopping that day of the crime.

The big breakthrough? Grix located a waiter at Friendly's who remembered

serving the entire group-at almost exactly the time the killing occurred.

"It was clear very quickly," Grix said, "this kid did not commit this

crime. The hard part was getting the DA's office to see."

According to attorney Castro, prosecutors made several plea offers, far

more generous than would be normal in a murder case. "They were offering to let

him plead to a single gun charge"-and get out of jail with time served.

Brown flatly refused.

It was only as the trial drew near and prosecutors began quizzing their

single witness that they, too, seemed to develop serious doubts.

"We dropped the charges in the interest of justice," Reed said. "We did

what we thought was the right thing to do."

Reed said prosecutors could have proceeded to trial. "We had a legally

sufficient case," he said. "There is no conclusive evidence that firmly

exonerates this defendant. But we did what we thought was right."

***

Lloyd Brown said he hated Rikers Island. But he said he never lost faith

that he would be free.

"It was very offensive to me," he said, "being accused of a murder. I could

never kill somebody. That's just not me."

He credited his family and his Rastafarian faith for his unshaken optimism.

"There's a balance," he said. "Things happen for a reason. You have to face

it as it comes."