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Judge dismisses Shawn Lawrence’s murder case over misconduct

Lawrence was the fifth Suffolk defendant in the past year to have murder charges dismissed at least in part because of a prosecutor’s misconduct.

Shawn Lawrence's murder case was dismissed by State Supreme Court Justice William Condon on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018, because of prosecutorial misconduct that the judge said was "absolutely stunning." (Credit: Randee Daddona)

Shawn Lawrence emerged beaming from a Riverhead courtroom Thursday, his murder indictment freshly vacated and his sentence of 75 years to life in prison a thing of the past.

“Beautiful, right?” he said to his wife, Alicia, as he embraced her.

State Supreme Court Justice William Condon had just dismissed the case because of prosecutorial misconduct that the judge said was “absolutely stunning.”

Condon said Suffolk prosecutors withheld 45 items of evidence from Lawrence’s defense and wrongly enabled a jury to convict Lawrence of second-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder for a January 2010 shooting in North Amityville. James Terry, 44, of North Amityville, was killed.

Lawrence, 44, formerly of North Amityville, said his plans as a free man were simple: “Forgive, and just move on.” He added, “I thank God for everything he’s given me and my wife, including the strength to get through all this, and for the attorneys who stand up and fight, like Laura Solinger.”

Solinger and Condon both thanked Assistant District Attorneys Kerriann Kelly and Lawrence Opisso for investigating acts committed by their former colleagues.

“As a defense attorney, this isn’t something I do often, but I, too, would like to thank these prosecutors, who looked at this case with an open heart, open eyes and integrity,” Solinger said in court. “The original prosecutors cherry-picked evidence to withhold from the defense, from your honor and from the jury.”

The trial prosecutor in this case was Glenn Kurtzrock. Lawrence was the fifth Suffolk defendant in the past year to have murder charges dismissed at least in part because of alleged prosecutorial misconduct by Kurtzrock, who was forced to resign last year by then-District Attorney Thomas Spota because of his actions in one of them.

Solinger’s motion said an earlier prosecutor in the Lawrence case, Robert Biancavilla, also violated Lawrence’s rights.

“One wonders who, ultimately, was responsible for all this,” Condon said. “Was it just ADA Kurtzrock? I don’t know.”

Kurtzrock’s attorney, David Besso of Bay Shore, said his client got the case less than three weeks before trial. “He didn’t do anything wrong in this case,” Besso said.

Biancavilla has also said he complied with all his legal and ethical responsibilities.

Among the items withheld from Lawrence and his lawyers, according to Solinger’s motion:

  • One of the witnesses against Lawrence got $4,000 from the district attorney’s office to relocate for his safety.
  • One of the other victims, David Hodges, was shot in the head and could not testify. Still, Det. Thomas Walsh testified that he picked out Lawrence in a photo array two years after the crime. But withheld were his notes stating that Hodges, while a patient at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center, had identified two other people as the shooters.
  • A gun used in the murder was found five months later in the possession of a 15-year-old boy. The ballistics report wasn’t turned over, the motion said, although Biancavilla said he did turn it over.
  • No information about that boy or six others said to be involved in the crime was turned over.

Lawrence, who was freed from prison in December after almost six years behind bars, said he has been working since then.

He and his wife smiled and declined to say where they live now.

“Far from Suffolk,” Alicia Lawrence said.

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