A man who was falsely convicted of a murder and spent four years in prison as a teenager will receive $250,000 from the City of Buffalo.
Jerome Thagard is a former Bennett High School student who was serving a 25-year-to-life sentence for the 2009 murder of Steven Northrup.
A gunman, who was in a dark hooded sweatshirt, approached Northrup and his girlfriend as they were fighting on April 29, 2009. He asked Northrup’s girlfriend if he wanted to shoot him. Northrup was shot seven times before his girlfriend could answer. The shooter immediately ran off.
That eventually led to three key witnesses testifying against Thagard. They identified him in a photograph lineup, including two girls who were sitting in a car about 100 yards away from the crime. When asked by a detective to write down what she saw, one girl wrote the word Philadelphia. That led to the detective assuming it meant the gunman was from Philadelphia Street, where Thagard lived.
At the time, the 16-year-old Thagard was already in the police system with a prior arrest on a shoplifting charge, but that would be dismissed at a later date. On January 25, 2010, Thagard was convicted of second-degree murder.
After three years behind bars, another investigation in 2013 found bullets from a crime involving the 10th street gang that were fired from the same gun used in the Northrup shooting. His charges were dismissed January 13, 2014.
Councilmember Ulysees Wingo said after serving time for crimes he did not commit, he won’t bat an eye at Thagard receiving $250,000.
“I will say I do believe that he deserves a lot more than that,” Wingo said. “And it’s a shame that he was villainized and criminalized for a crime that he was never convicted for. But because he was in the database, this is the life that this man had to live.”
It turned out, when the witness wrote down Philadelphia, she was referencing the street they had driven down, not the gunman’s location. Both witnesses from the car also signed sworn statements saying they were pressured by detectives to select a photograph in similar lineups.
Wingo said Thagard is only free because of an unrelated incident.
“My son goes to school every day with a hoody on and it pains me. It scares the life out of me every day my son leaves home,” Wingo said. “He’s going to college now, but it scared me every day that he could be identified so cavalierly and so easily and this could be my son who’d gone to jail for years.”
Since his release, Thagard has moved to Canada.