Convicted murderer Raymond Gaines freed after 46 years amid new evidence
Motions raise questions about Boston police misconduct
NEARLY 46 YEARS after Raymond Gaines was sent to prison for murder, a Suffolk Superior Court judge on Wednesday ordered his release after new evidence raised questions about his guilt, and about potential misconduct by the Boston police who investigated the case.
“I’m ecstatic,” Gaines said as he walked out of lockup to the embrace of his daughter and his grandchildren. “I’m still processing it.”
Judge Debra Squires-Lee ruled last Friday that Gaines had raised enough questions about the evidence presented at his trial that he should be freed while his lawyers gathered material in preparation for seeking a new trial. At a hearing Wednesday, Squires-Lee ordered Gaines released with GPS monitoring and a nightly curfew. She warned him that even though he is being released while investigations continue into whether he deserves a new trial, he must still abide by restrictions. “You still have a conviction for first–degree murder,” she said.
Gaines’s daughter, Amani Brewington, came from New Jersey with six of her children to greet her father with flowers and helium balloons reading “welcome back” and “you’re so special.” Brewington said she has never seen her father out on the streets. “It means the world to me,” she said.
Though he is free for the first time in more than four decades, Gaines has not been exonerated and could face a new trial that could send him back to prison.
But he sounded a confident note shortly after his release, saying he hopes to eventually become an advocate for other prisoners. “I think I’m going to get into this freedom fight and probably help some guys that’s left behind that I know got similar circumstances to myself,” Gaines said. “It’s barbaric the way a system can brutalize a person the way it has done me and so many others across the country.”
Gaines was arrested in 1975 for the armed robbery and murder of Boston shopkeeper Peter Sulfaro. But since then, according to court filings, two of the witnesses recanted their testimony. New evidence emerged showing that the key eyewitness – the shopkeeper’s teenage son – was influenced by improper police procedures. And the credibility of one of the Boston police detectives involved in the case was called into question.
“Those are the three prongs of evidence used to send this man to prison for life, and they’ve all been called into extremely serious question,” said Merritt Schnipper, the attorney appointed by the Committee for Public Counsel Services’ Innocence Project to represent Gaines.
The Suffolk district attorney’s office opposed Gaines’s motion for release. A spokesperson for District Attorney Rachael Rollins did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for the Boston Police Department also did not respond to a request for comment about the allegations of police misconduct.
At trial, Gaines and another man, Jerry Funderberg, were found guilty of armed robbery and first–degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. The Supreme Judicial Court upheld their convictions in 1978. A third man, Robert Anderson, was convicted in a separate trial.
Gaines, Funderberg, and Anderson were identified by the apartment owner, David Bass, who said the three men showed up at the apartment out of breath and discussed the shooting. Gaines was identified in a photo lineup by Paul Sulfaro.
Gaines was arrested in Iowa, where he was then living, several months later. A police officer testified that Gaines admitted on the flight back to Boston that he was there when the shooting happened. At trial, Gaines testified in his defense that he was already on his way to Iowa when the shooting took place, and he was walking with a cane because he was shot in both legs weeks earlier.
According to the court documents filed by Gaines’s attorney, there were major problems with multiple pieces of evidence against Gaines.
When Paul Sulfaro was shown a photo lineup with 61 black men after the murder, the new filings said, he initially picked out two other men: Alfred Hamilton and Antonio Daniels. Another witness said he saw Hamilton fleeing the shop. David and Lorena Bass, the owners of the nearby apartment where the men fled, were Hamilton’s mother and stepfather. Daniels was a close family friend. The police initially arrested Hamilton and Daniels, and Daniels had a gun of the same caliber used to murder Sulfaro, according to evidence summarized in Gaines’s motion for a new trial.
However, after Hamilton and Daniels were arrested, David and Lorena Bass told the Boston police that Anderson, Funderberg, and Gaines showed up at their apartment out of breath, with $120 in cash, and Funderberg made incriminating comments.
After Bass’s report to the police, a Boston police offer went back to Paul Sulfaro with the same photo lineup, plus additional photos of Gaines, Funderberg, and Anderson, and told the teenager he had picked the “wrong” people, according to Paul Sulfaro’s testimony during motion hearings before the initial trial. Sulfaro then identified the photos of Gaines and Funderberg. The trial court judge did not allow information about the earlier identification in at trial.
A court motion filed by Gaines includes an affidavit from another man suggesting that David Bass was a Boston Police informant, although that has not been proven.
In 1990, when Funderberg was seeking a new trial, David Bass recanted his testimony. He said in an affidavit that he had lied to keep his son and his son’s friend out of jail, and to keep himself from going to jail for running a drug house.
Anderson also recanted his testimony in 1990, saying the Boston police coerced him into reading a statement the police had prepared implicating Gaines and Funderberg. Anderson said a Boston police officer pointed a gun at him and threatened to kill him if he didn’t say what the officer wanted.
A judge in Funderberg’s case when he was seeking a new trial did not deem either Bass or Anderson’s testimony to be credible. The judge wrote that Bass, at the time he testified, was homeless and under the influence of alcohol.
Gaines never found out that the two key witnesses against him recanted their testimony until 30 years later, when he filed a series of public records requests.
Meanwhile, the Boston police officer who testified that Gaines implicated himself in the crime, Detective Peter O’Malley, was implicated in wrongdoing during the Charles Stuart case that shook the city in 1989. State and federal investigations of police misconduct found that O’Malley in that case threatened witnesses and pressured witnesses to give false testimony.
Schnipper took Gaines’s case last year. In a preliminary motion asking for a new trial, and for Gaines’s release in the meantime, Schnipper argued that there are significant questions about the evidence –– about Sulfaro’s eyewitness identification, Bass and Anderson’s recanted testimony, and O’Malley’s credibility. While Schnipper says it will take at least a year to fully investigate and submit a complete motion for a new trial, he said Gaines’s age and compromised health amid the COVID-19 pandemic justify his release during the investigation.
While Rollins acknowledged that he is unlikely to be a flight risk and that he is at risk of contracting COVID, she wrote that Gaines has not demonstrated that there is an appellate issue that bears a chance of success. She noted that Gaines – representing himself without an attorney – has repeatedly tried in the past to overturn his conviction, unsuccessfully.
Rollins argued that filings Gaines made previously imply that he was present during the crime. She said judges have already ruled that Bass and Anderson were not credible when they recanted their testimony. She also said O’Malley’s credibility was raised during the trial, and a second officer heard some of the statements O’Malley testified to.
Rollins wrote that she has been in touch with the Sulfaro family, who oppose Gaines’s release. CommonWealth was unable to reach members of the Sulfaro family.
In a decision issued April 23, Squires-Lee ruled that Gaines has met his burden of raising an issue that would give an appellate court pause, and he should be released while additional investigation is conducted pending a motion for new trial.
“Confronted with an eyewitness identification peppered with problems that we now know, based on improved science, seriously affect its reliability; confronted with not one, but two witnesses who said they lied about Gaines’ involvement in the robbery and murder, and confronted with information that at least one of the detectives who investigated and testified against Gaines was later found to have coerced and threatened witnesses in other cases and there was some evidence of such conduct in this case,” Squires-Lee wrote that she must conclude that Gaines raised enough issues that would require evaluation by an appellate court.
Schnipper noted that because of the complexity of the investigation – a number of the key players have died and records have been destroyed – it will take time to fully investigate what happened. Funderberg, O’Malley, Hamilton, and Daniels are all dead.
Gaines will live in a Mattapan apartment paid for by two advocacy groups, New Beginnings Reentry Services and Families for Justice as Healing, which have been helping him. His wife lives in Marlborough. About a dozen activists from those groups waited outside the courthouse to greet Gaines.
Sashi James of Families for Justice as Healing said Gaines is “a wrongfully convicted man” who has been incarcerated for more than 45 years. “I think that speaks for itself as to why it’s so important for us to be out here standing in solidarity as he walks out of those doors to come be reunited with his family members…and community members,” James said.The case will continue going through the court system for discovery and arguments on whether a new trial is warranted. If Squires-Lee agrees a new trial is warranted, it will be up to Rollins whether to retry him.
Gaines, meanwhile, continues to maintain his innocence. “I’ve always maintained my innocence and never given up on the hope I would return to my family at some point in time,” he said. “There was times when my faith and my hope was on its deathbed and it felt like it needed to be resuscitated or given some emergency CPR or something. But I’ve never given up.”