For those of us who’ve known Donovan Drayton his entire young life, and his father Ronny over a decade longer, news that Donovan had been arrested for alleged involvement in a robbery-homicide was beyond unreal – numbing, absurd, surreal. We all know the world to be a strange, capricious, unpredictable place. One where people we thought we knew sometimes turn out to be otherwise–but much about these charges against Donovan did not compute from the jump. He grew up in a rough neighborhood for sure, but one so rough that the kids who become murdering thugs by 18 are generally not those like Donovan whose first arrest ever would be on such extremely serious charges and leave a community like ours in shock. We knew Donovan to be the proverbial ‘good kid’. Nothing that came to be revealed in this case has ever shaken that faith.
Whatever lingering doubt some may had about Donovan’s innocence was forever dispelled by the fact that Donovan, alone among those charged in the case, refused to accept a plea deal…This despite the fact that he risked maximum sentences while those who confessed to planning and executing the crime were given minimum terms of incarceration.
The people who stood by Ronny and Donovan during the pre-trial months of 40 adjournments included adult professionals of many callings and ethnicity–folk who ran the occupational gamut from world-renowned artists and musicians to esteemed religious and political dignitaries to seasoned journalists, as well as those from various business, corporate, legal and military backgrounds.
It did not go unnoticed by many of us that Donovan was sometimes the only young African-American man awaiting trial who had a supportive cast of family, friends and associates always there in his corner. Many other defendants often had no family or even friends present in some cases – let alone any group resembling our estimable gathering of mostly middle-aged, mostly American success stories. Our numbers on some days swelled to the low 20s and rarely ran to less than a dozen folk. The pre-trial courtroom of Judge Robert Hanophy was often a dreary , desolate place occupied only by the judge and a couple of court officers. The days when Donovan’s many supporters turned out probably seemed like a carnival event to the courtroom’s everyday work force.
It became a sincere belief that once Donovan was finally given a trial, his innocence – of which we were already convinced beyond a reasonable doubt – would become embarrassingly clear to the system that had implicated and confined him on Riker’s Island for alleged crimes we knew him incapable of committing. This no matter what plea bargained testimony would be offered by the actual planners and perpetrators of the felony-murder incident in question.
Whatever lingering doubt some may had about Donovan’s innocence was forever dispelled by the fact that Donovan, alone among those charged in the case, refused to accept a plea deal of 18 years. (For the record, 99% of American criminal cases are resolved this way by prosecutors who prefer their accused to kowtow and plea-out rather than demand their day in court before a select community jury.) Donovan held fast to his demand for a trial. This despite the fact that he risked maximum sentences while those who confessed to planning and executing the crime were given minimum terms of incarceration. The confessed shooter, Craig Glover, had taken a deal giving him 18 years: his confessed planner, accomplice and driver Jason White is serving a mere seven-year bid. Donovan, if convicted could get 25 years to life. Who but someone ready to fight for their innocence would risk those odds? Especially against a prosecutorial opponent in Queens D.A. Sean Clark whose daily caseload and career advancement found him routinely putting away as many young African-American men as the law allowed and for as long as inhumanely possible.
The trial that unfolded before us during the summer of 2011 in the courtroom of Judge Robert McGann produced even more incredulity for Donovan’s family and friends. Not least because of the overt ludicrousness of the prosecution’s case. Much about that case would have seemed mildly comical if a young man’s life was not at stake.
We were astonished to find that all the prosecution’s witnesses against Donovan were confessed criminals who’d been shown extraordinary leniency by prosecutor Clark. The DA’s first witness against Donovan, one Jason White, was in fact exonerated by the DA’s office on the day of his trial appearance for a related crime – the robbery of Anthony Wright, the DA’s so-called victim and main witness. White robbed Anthony Wright earlier that same year with Craig Glover, the confessed shooter– a guy who White proclaimed was his best friend. During his testimony White perjured himself on the stand about his intimate familiarity with the “Trip Set Mafia’ gang leadership, gang membership and gang terminology in the same Jamaica Queens area where he was born, raised and chose criminality.
The prosecution’s key witness was one Anthony Wright. This fellow lived in the house that the victim, Dwight Bent, had come to visit and as occurred daily, deal drugs. (This same residence, it should be noted, also housed a ground floor day care center–one whose operation obviously wasn’t allowed to interfere with the dime bag dealing done on the premises.) On the witness stand, Anthony Wright attempted to implicate Donovan in events which he never claimed to have seen if we go by his earlier “untainted interviews” with police right after the murder. Upon search of the house after the killing of Bent, Anthony Wright was found to be in possession of a large gym bag of illegal bullets and an illegal modified semi-automatic rifle. Wright is also a co-defendant in a 30-count drug and racketeering conspiracy case in South East Queens involving himself and members of his family, stepfather, sister and nephew and many others. Anthony Wright though is unfathomably not in jail awaiting a trial on any of his many prosecutable charges and is looking at only probation if Donovan is convicted. Once again it seems something is very rotten in Denmark.
To Ronny and Donovan’s supporters it seemed that prosecutor Sean Clark was desperately grasping for conviction by any farfetched means necessary–not least being criminal witnesses of the lowest caliber of character and credulity.
It was however the various Queens homicide detectives testimony that would provoke the most raised eyebrows in the courtroom. Their methods,or lack thereof, ran counter to everything we’ve ever been led to believe about the most basic and routine police forensic procedures as CSI and LAW & ORDER. Because on a crime scene awash in blood, bullet holes, illegal weapons, ammunition and the thirteen bags of marijuana found on the victim’s body, that amazingly, bewilderingly no forensic tests were ordered by the NYPD on any of the ample bits of evidence–all found, remember, at a felony robbery-homicide that occurred at a known drug dealer’s residence.
On the witness stand the detectives and their superiors played a bizarre game of pass-the-buck with respect to why none among them had ordered critical tests on blood, weapons, fingerprints, drug, bullet marks, shell casings etc.
The upshot of the defense’s dismantling of the prosecution’s case became that the jury cleared Donovan of several murder charges but was left “hung” over others only because of the lack of alternate jurors. This means a second trial on those charges is about to begin–even thought there still remains no proof of Donovan’s involvement at the scene. As before all the “proof” presented against Donovan’s involvement will come from the prosecutor’s quite compromised and quite suspect (though much obliged) ‘thug-like’ witnesses. So that despite the fact that Donovan is no longer under the dark cloud of some murder indictment, he still is facing a felony murder charge based on Jason White’s uncorroborated claims that Donovan supplied the gun that killed Bent and was a so-called co-planner of the robbery. These claims are especially unbelievable since White is known to have amassed a large collection of weaponry himself. At the trial no gun was ever found or presented with any connection to Donovan nor was there any evidence of a robbery having been committed by “him or Glover”.
What we seem to have here in prosecutor Sean Clark is a DA who, despite his own office’s malfeasance, incompetence and arrogance wants to see Donovan convicted because an alternative outcome would blemish his conviction record. It would also open the question of why this young man was sent to rot on Riker’s island for 5 years on not one shred of credible evidence. All of which leaves us right back to where we were two years ago:anxiously waiting for the outcome of another trial whose only satisfactory and acceptable outcome will be to … Free Donovan Drayton.
~ Greg Tate
Verdict of 1st Trial
- intentional murder
- manslaughter in the first degree
- criminal possession of a weapon (the 38 gun)
- felony murder
- 2 counts of attempted robbery in the first degree
- attempted robbery in the 2nd degree
- criminal possession of a weapon (the 45 gun)