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Appeals court overturns Suffolk County murder conviction

Shawn Lawrence and his attorney, Joseph Hanshe Jr.,

Shawn Lawrence and his attorney, Joseph Hanshe Jr., appear in Suffolk County Court in Riverhead on June. 22, 2015. Credit: James Carbone

A defense attorney’s misstep and a judge’s failure to fix the problem have resulted in a state appellate court overturning a Suffolk County murder conviction Wednesday.

Prosecutors took the rare stance of agreeing that the conviction of Shawn Lawrence, 44, of North Amityville, should not stand.

Lawrence, who had been sentenced to 75 years to life in prison, now will face trial again for the 2010 ambush shooting that killed James Terry, 44, and injured two other men, David Hodges and Ralph Council Jr., 51, all of North Amityville.

Before the trial started, Lawrence’s attorney, Joseph Hanshe Jr. of Sayville, interviewed Council on his own. Hanshe said then that Council told him that Lawrence was not at the shooting scene and had nothing to do with it, but he implicated Lawrence because police and prosecutors offered him a lesser sentence for an attempted assault charge in return.

The prosecutor in the case, Glenn Kurtzrock, then urged state Supreme Court Justice William Condon to remove Hanshe from the case because he had made himself a witness in violation of legal rules. Normally when lawyers interview witnesses, they bring along an investigator who can later be called as a witness.

In this case, Kurtzrock argued that Hanshe would not be able to challenge Council’s shifting versions of events. He warned Condon that leaving Hanshe in place would likely lead to a conviction being reversed.

To stay on the case, Hanshe promised to avoid cross-examining Council about that, but Kurtzrock said that would be ineffective assistance of counsel.

Condon declined to remove Hanshe from the case.

But Lawrence’s appellate attorney, Laura Solinger of Southold, and Assistant District Attorney Marion Tang both agreed that prevented Lawrence from getting a fair trial.

Tang wrote in her brief that “if defense counsel did not cross-examine Mr. Council on this matter, there would be a failure to confront the main eyewitness in the case with a recantation.”

The Appellate Division Second Department ruled Wednesday that Condon erred by not removing Hanshe and appointing a different lawyer who could represent Lawrence without a conflict.

Hanshe said he was pleased the conviction was overturned, regardless of the reason.

“I don’t believe he’s guilty of this crime,” he said.

Lawrence was convicted of second-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder.

Prosecutors say that on Jan. 12, 2010, Allen McGhee, 29, of North Amityville recruited Lawrence and two others to avenge a perceived slight by Hodges.

McGhee had taken food from Hodges, not knowing it included shrimp. McGhee is allergic to seafood and got sick. The four men shot at a minivan in an apartment complex parking lot, killing Terry and wounding Hodges and Council.

McGhee pleaded guilty to manslaughter and is serving 12 years in prison.

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