Delaware Justices Overturn Conviction in Barbershop Killings
DOVER, Del. (AP) - The Delaware Supreme Court has overturned the conviction of a death-row inmate in the fatal shootings of a man and a 5-year-old boy at a Wilmington barbershop in 2001.
In ruling issued this week, the justices said Chauncy Starling was entitled to a new trial because his defense attorney's mistakes and prosecutors' failure to disclose that charges against the state's key witness had been dropped before Starling's trial.
Starling, 40, was sentenced to death in 2004 for the killings of 5-year-old Damon Gist Jr. and Darnell Evans, 28, at the Made 4 Men barbershop in downtown Wilmington.
Carl Kanefsky, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, said Tuesday that prosecutors were evaluating the court's decision.
Defense attorney David Fragale called the killings of Evans and Gist heinous, but said Starling was not responsible.
"The court's decision reversing Mr. Starling's conviction is consistent with his innocence," Fragale said in an email. "There is no reliable evidence on which to retry Mr. Starling. If the state of Delaware chooses to do so anyway, we are confident that a fair trial will lead to his complete exoneration and allow Mr. Starling to return home to his family where he belongs."
According to court records, Starling and two other men, Alfred Gaines and Richard Frink, were searching for Evans on the day of the shooting. After spotting him, Starling entered the barbershop wearing a hooded sweat shirt and a covering over his face, and shot Evans several times, police said. As Evans tried to run, a bullet struck the child in the head.
In overturning Starling's conviction, the Supreme Court noted that his attorney forgot to examine an eyewitness who recalled seeing newspaper photographs of Starling and another suspect and told an investigator that neither had the same appearance as the shooter.
The court also noted that Starling's attorney failed to object to the admission of a statement by Starling's brother to police after several hours of interrogation that Starling said he was sorry for what he did to the boy.
"A substantial argument could have been made that the statement was involuntary and therefore inadmissible," Justice Collins J. Seitz Jr. wrote for the court.
The Supreme Court also noted that before the trial, prosecutors dismissed a warrant and probation violation charges against Gaines, the state's central witness, but told Starling's attorney at the time of trial that the charges against Gaines remained pending.
"Instead of providing accurate information, the state misinformed trial counsel about the status of Gaines' charges. This mistake, unintentional as it was, deprived the defense of important evidence that might have been used to attack the credibility of the state's main witness," Seitz wrote.
He said the errors, taken together, suggest a "reasonable probability" the case would have turned out differently without them.
Starling's attorneys suggested on appeal that prosecutors did Gaines a favor in return for his testimony. The probation violation charge against Gaines stemmed from an incident in which he was found with drugs after being shot by Starling less than a month after the barbershop killings.
Monday, December 9 2019 7:16 AM EST2019-12-09 12:16:46 GMT
Monday, December 9 2019 7:28 AM EST2019-12-09 12:28:48 GMT
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