A high-ranking homicide prosecutor in the Brooklyn district attorney’s office will be grilled Tuesday about his role in the failure to turn over a key document in a 2006 murder case that sent a man to prison for 15 years and counting.
Howard Jackson, the deputy chief of homicide for the DA’s office, will take the stand in an unusual hearing in the case of Ronnie Wright, who is seeking to have his conviction vacated. Wright, who is not eligible for parole until 2044, says he’s innocent.
Wright was convicted of the Aug. 7, 2006, gang-related murder of Andrell Napper on Throop Ave. outside the Sumner Houses, largely thanks to the claims of a single eyewitness. Jackson was the lead prosecutor at the 2008 trial.
Wright’s lawyers, however, say they learned in 2018 that Demetrius Morris, a member of a violent Brooklyn gang called G’z Up, told an FBI agent and two NYPD detectives two months after the murder that Wright did not shoot Napper.
The 2006 statement was withheld, Wright’s lawyers allege, “knowingly and deliberately,” to hide the existence of an ongoing joint NYPD-FBI investigation into G’z Up and other gangs operating in the Marcy, Tompkins and Sumner Houses.
“The police and prosecutors think this is big — ‘We’re going to take down these gangs’ — but my guy got run over,” said Robert Kerrigan, one of Wright’s lawyers.
“They were months away from the takedowns in this yearslong investigation when Wright’s trial occurred. Evidence the murder was gang-related would jeopardize their ongoing racketeering investigation, so they withheld that evidence.”
Wright only learned of the statement’s existence after Morris testified as a cooperating witness in the 2019 racketeering trial of the G’z Up gang leader. In his testimony, Morris admitted he was one of the shooters who killed Napper. He said he didn’t see Wright with a gun at all that night.
Kerrigan said prosecutors also withheld evidence of close ties between their key witness, Valerie Smith, and Napper. Morris was never arrested though three other eyewitnesses named him as the shooter, Kerrigan said.
Wright insisted on his innocence from the beginning and testified in his own grand jury, something defendants rarely do.
“The defendant was implicated by an eyewitness, by a co-defendant who pleaded guilty to the murder and by another accomplice. That man, Demetrius Morris, pointed to the defendant’s involvement and contradicted his alibi defense in his 2006 statements and 2019 testimony. We intend to continue to litigate this case in court,” said a spokesman for the DA’s office.
In his early attempts at appeal, Wright represented himself, but those legal efforts failed.
His fortunes started to turn in 2018 in the leadup to the trial G’z Up gang leader.
Further digging revealed that on Oct. 17, 2006, Morris met with FBI Special Agent Anthony Grubisic and NYPD Detectives Christopher Hennigan and George Harvey. During the interview, Morris acknowledged Wright was not one of the killers.
Hennigan is expected to take the stand Tuesday.
The bombshell prompted Wright’s lawyers Kerrigan, John O’Hara and Dennis Kelly to file a motion seeking to vacate the conviction.
Julie Clark, Wright’s lawyer during the original trial, signed an affidavit in which she swore prosecutors did not provide Morris’s statement and also hid the existence of the entire FBI-NYPD investigation.
Officials with the DA’s office initially told Judge Ruth Shillingford they couldn’t find Morris’ statement.
Wright’s relatives are hopeful his conviction will be tossed.
“I always told Ronnie what’s done in the darkness will come to the light,” said Lynetta Wright, his first cousin and a pastor at All People’s Church in Brooklyn. “They can’t hold you that long because the facts are going to reveal themselves.”