Stephan Cowans’ short life was marred by terrible injustice. He spent seven of his 37 years behind bars for the shooting of a Boston police officer – a crime he didn’t commit. And less than four years after DNA testing proved his innocence and led to his release from prison, he was shot and killed in his home. Family members have said that they believe the killer was trying to rob him because of his well-known $3.2 million wrongful conviction settlement.
Cowans was convicted based partly on trial testimony from a fingerprint examiner who said that a print from the crime scene matched Cowans’ print. After DNA tests exonerated Cowans, experts reexamined the print and determined that the “match” was in error. And a major Boston Phoenix investigation published yesterday uncovers evidence that the police and forensic misconduct may go deeper than a fingerprint error. The Phoenix reports that forged documents in the case show an attempt to cover up gross negligence or misconduct by police officers, and a reluctance to pursue the actual perpetrator in the case.
Cowans never learned how, or why, he came to be blamed for the non-fatal shooting of Boston police officer Gregory Gallagher in 1997. Now, the Boston Phoenix has uncovered substantial new information about the Cowans case. These revelations are troubling, as they suggest that key members of the Boston Police Department (BPD) knew that Cowans was innocent, even as they forged the case to prosecute him.
The Phoenix has reviewed hundreds of pages of documents, including contents of the original investigative file, and interviewed many sources close to the case. For a variety of reasons, certain case materials, physical evidence, and potential witnesses were not available. Nonetheless, the picture that has emerged is one in which some BPD officers appear to have perjured themselves, and/or concealed evidence, hidden what they knew, and even falsified documents. Officers may have been aware of Cowans’s innocence — some of them may even have known who the real shooter was, and for whatever reason, worked to protect him.