Two separate Suffolk County murder cases fell apart Wednesday, with one case dismissed because of unreliable witnesses and another heading for the same result because of what a judge called “egregious” prosecutorial misconduct.
State Supreme Court Justice William Condon ordered that Shawn Lawrence, 44, of North Amityville, be released without bail and indicated he probably will dismiss his murder conviction next month.
As that was happening in Riverhead, state Supreme Court Justice Richard Ambro in a courtroom two floors down dismissed a pending second-degree murder charge against Barry Yorke, 24, of Copiague, over issues involving prosecution witnesses.
This is the fifth murder case to be dismissed in Suffolk this year — with Lawrence’s case set to join them. All were handled by former Assistant District Attorney Glenn Kurtzrock, although two other prosecutors had the Lawrence case before Kurtzrock.
There was no indication in the Yorke case that Kurtzrock committed misconduct by withholding evidence from the defense, but the district attorney’s office has been reviewing all of Kurtzrock’s cases after he did that earlier this year in the cases of four people charged with killing Demitri Hampton, 21, of Flanders in a home invasion burglary. All the defendants in that case had their murder charges dismissed, pleaded guilty to lesser charges and got significantly shorter sentences.
Kurtzrock, who was forced to resign in May because of the Hampton case, is now working as a defense attorney while the state courts’ Grievance Committee investigates his actions. His lawyer, David Besso of Bay Shore, said his client “denies the allegations he intentionally failed to turn over any evidence favorable to the defendant in the Shawn Lawrence case.”
The last time Condon had seen Lawrence was July 2, 2015, when the judge sentenced him and agreed with Kurtzrock that Lawrence should be “locked in a cage for life.” Lawrence is serving 75 years to life in the 2010 killing of James Terry, 44, of North Amityville, and the attempted murders of two other men.
On Wednesday, Condon was more contrite as he told Lawrence that Kurtzrock and other prosecutors had kept helpful evidence from him in violation of what is known as the Brady rule.
“Certain things have been brought to my attention, indicating that the prosecution was dealing from a deck that was missing a few cards, and those cards were favorable to you,” Condon told Lawrence. “These were Brady violations that were egregious.”
Condon said he would rule on motions to dismiss the case on Jan. 16.
Lawrence’s trial attorney, Joseph Hanshe Jr. of Sayville, picked up his former client when he was released Wednesday, took him to his girlfriend and took them out to dinner.
Lawrence, who called Condon racist and unfair at his sentencing in 2015, smiled and thanked the judge Wednesday.
Assistant District Attorney Kerriann Kelly, chief of the Major Crime Bureau, said the case has to be dismissed and that the fault for withholding evidence “lies with our office.”
Even during Lawrence’s trial, there were claims that prosecutors waited years to divulge that another person not charged with the shootings had been arrested in possession of the murder weapon. But defense attorney Susan Menu of Riverhead said it went beyond that. It included a videotape from a hospital that showed a person one witness identified as a shooter visiting one of the surviving victims. Besso said Kurtzrock never knew about that video.
When his case was dismissed Wednesday, Yorke was awaiting a second trial, after a hung jury, in the 2010 shooting of cabdriver Juan Rosario, 19, of Copiague. Yorke is serving 13 1⁄3 to 16 years in prison for dealing guns and perjury, but defense attorney Christopher Gioe of Hauppauge said those cases are being appealed.
Yorke’s mother, Violet Smith of Amityville, said the other charges were the result of the district attorney’s office’s difficulty proving the murder. “Everything they said against my son is a lie,” she said.