Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office Investigates another Innocence Claim
In an article that Jim Dwyer wrote for the About New York column in today’s edition of the
New York Times
, he tells the story of Everton Wagstaffe, a 45-year-old New York man who has spent more than 22 years in a maximum security prison after being convicted of the 1992 kidnapping and death of 16-year-old Jennifer Negron in the East New York section of Brooklyn. His case is being investigated by the Brooklyn district attorney’s office because there is mounting evidence that Wagstaffe may, in fact, be innocent.
Ever since Wagstaffe was arrested more than 20 years ago, he has been emphatic that he is innocent, so much so that over the years he has rejected several opportunities to walk out of prison because there was a caveat: release would mean that he would have to admit remorse for the crime.
According to Dywer, the Brooklyn district attorney’s office started investigating Wagstaffe’s case about a year ago because two new eyewitnesses claimed that Wagstaffe and his co-defendant, Reginald Connor — who accepted parole in exchange for registering as a sex offender — were both innocent. In addition to the potentially exculpatory testimonies offered by the new eyewitnesses, DNA testing of hair found in the victim’s hand, as well as scraping from under her fingernails, excluded both Wagstaffe and Connor.
Dwyer explains that during the investigation there was a lack of substantive evidence that pointed to Wagstaffe’s and Connor’s involvement in the crime. The investigation relied heavily on the testimony of a single informant — a woman who was known to be dependent on crack and who claimed that she was an eyewitness to the kidnapping. She testified that the men dragged Negron away from her home and forced her into their car. She also testified that there was a third man in the backseat of the car, but only Wagstaffe and Connor were ever charged.
While Wagstaffe waits for the Brooklyn attorney’s office to conclude its investigation, he tries to remain patient, yet sounds weary. Already, he’s served nearly his entire 25-year sentence. He told Dywer: “What is my life about? . . . All this stuff, all this evidence of innocence, has been brought forth, and I think, ‘Yes, this is it — straight to the point, no way around it.’ But here I am, all these years later.”
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