In November 1994, a 70-year-old woman was stabbed and her purse stolen as she walked through the grounds of Ravenswood Houses in Long Island City. The woman died. Ten-year-old Brandon Rogers told police he saw the attack from his third-story window from more than 100 yards away. Based on Rogers’ general description of the perpetrator, detectives focused on Kendrick, a Black disabled Army veteran with no criminal record who lived in Ravenswood.
Prior to placing Kendrick in an identification lineup, police confirmed for Rogers the “real murderer” would be in the lineup. Rogers initially identified a filler. Told that he was wrong, Rogers then picked Kendrick.
Police then re-interviewed Mario Aguillo. He had first told police he went to the victim while she was on the ground but didn’t see her assailant. But after Rogers identified Kendrick, Aguillo told police he was returning from his girlfriend’s house when he approached the victim on the ground and saw Kendrick running toward his apartment with a purse under his arm. Police found a purse atop Kendrick’s television. But Kendrick’s wife told police and testified at trial that the purse was hers. A jury convicted Kendrick of felony murder and robbery. He was sentenced to 25 years to life for murder and eight to 25 years for robbery.
In 2016, DNA testing on the victim’s fingernails identified male DNA but excluded Kendrick as the contributor. Testing of the purse found none of the victim’s DNA anywhere, showing it was not hers.
Additionally, Rogers – now an adult – recanted his testimony, admitting he “never could identify the perpetrator’s face.” A new witness came forward, stating she had witnessed the attack. She was in the apartment below Rogers but said she couldn’t identify anyone because of the distance.
Finally, the woman who was Aguilo’s girlfriend at the time of the crime insisted she wasn’t with Aguilo on that day because she was in school. Records from the school verified her statement. Further, while the prosecution disclosed that Aguilo was facing charges for robbery, the prosecutor failed to disclose that Aguilo had also been identified by the victim of an unrelated shooting. Aguilo was sentenced for the robbery after Kendrick’s trial. The prosecutor referred to the unrelated shooting as “a freebie.”
In almost 70% of cases overturned by DNA, there were eyewitness misidentifications. In 17% of those cases, there were witnesses who were offered deals in exchange for their testimony.
Kendrick’s release came about as a result of the dedicated work of attorneys Susan Friedman and Vanessa Potkin of the Innocence Project affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and with the help of attorneys Ross Firsenbaum, Charles Bridge, Brett Atanasio (at WilmerHale), Janet Carter, and the Queen’s District Attorney’s Office.
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