Murder, Robbery Exoneree Seeks $1M For Lost Years

By Julie Manganis | February 26, 2024, 5:42 PM EST ·

A Massachusetts man who spent more than half his life in prison before being exonerated for a 1994 murder and robbery has filed a lawsuit seeking $1 million in compensation under a 20-year-old state law.

James Lucien, now 50, "spent the prime years of his life incarcerated" following a corruption-tainted investigation by a police detective, John Brazil, who later admitted to being part of a scheme with other detectives to shake down drug dealers and falsify reports, according to the complaint filed Friday in Suffolk County Superior Court.

Lucien is asking the court to order the state of Massachusetts to pay him $1 million, the maximum available under the 2004 wrongful conviction statute, and expunge the arrest and conviction from the state's criminal history and probation records.

Lucien's attorney, Mark Loevy-Reyes, told Law360 on Monday that his client "reached out to the Commonwealth months ago asking if it wanted to resolve the case, but received no response."

Lucien's murder and robbery convictions were vacated in 2021, and a gun conviction was vacated two years later. Suffolk County prosecutors filed formal motions ceasing prosecution in both cases.

Ryan Edwards was sitting in the driver's seat and Lucien was in the back seat of a car parked in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood in June 1994 when Edwards was shot once, according to the complaint. He was still alive when police arrived and told an officer that he had been shot by someone standing outside his car; there was no mention of a robbery.

According to the complaint, Edwards' half-brother, Alford Clarke, an alleged drug dealer, had been standing outside the car. He fled the scene and hid a handgun of the same caliber as the bullet that killed Edwards, then returned, according to the complaint.

Edwards never implicated Clarke before he died, according to the complaint. Brazil was the lead detective on the case.

What Lucien and his lawyers didn't know is Brazil and other Boston police detectives, including Kenneth Acerra and Walter Robinson, were routinely shaking down drug dealers, stealing money from crime scenes, and falsifying evidence and reports — as Brazil would later testify in a federal corruption trial of Acerra and Robinson. The Edwards shooting was no different, Lucien says in the complaint.

Lucien says Brazil took cash from Edwards' car and possibly his clothing, neither of which was ever submitted as evidence and would have shown Lucien could not have robbed and shot Edwards, according to the complaint. 

When Clarke returned to the scene, Lucien says, Brazil leaned on him to tell him where he kept his drugs and cash, trying to "forge an alliance" with Clarke, eventually coming up with a story that he had traded the gun to someone else before the shooting. After Lucien was charged with murder, Brazil threatened Clarke with deportation to keep him on board, according to the complaint.

Brazil then got rid of the gun and claimed someone else had thrown it away, preventing any ballistics testing, according to the complaint. Lucien says Brazil reported finding a smaller amount of money and claimed Lucien had taken the rest of the cash to support a baseless armed robbery charge.

The clothing, if submitted for testing, would have shown no evidence of gunshot residue, and that in turn would have eliminated the possibility of the shot coming from inside the car, he said.

Nor was the car itself tested for gunshot residue, Lucien says.

Brazil and other investigators also allegedly fabricated recovering a pager with incriminating evidence on it and leaned on a co-defendant and another witness in the case to provide false testimony against Lucien, according to the complaint.

The other problems included a ballistics expert who failed to disclose he had been placed on leave after lying in a prior investigation; a fellow detective who did not disclose misconduct; and the lack of disclosure of Brazil's history of falsifying affidavits, theft of cash and other misconduct, according to the complaint.

Lucien was 22 and the father of a toddler at the time of his arrest. "The harms his wrongful conviction have caused him — emotional, physical and otherwise — have been profound and can never be fully compensated," his attorney said in the complaint.

"Every day, Mr. Lucien is working to rebuild his life from all the years taken from him by officers known by the Boston Police Department to be crooked," Loevy-Reyes told Law360.

A spokeswoman for the state Attorney General's Office declined to comment.

Brazil would later testify under an immunity deal with federal prosecutors in a police corruption case against two other detectives, Kenneth Acerra and Walter Robinson, detailing how they were part of a group of Boston police detectives in the early 1990s who regularly robbed drug dealers and filed false reports, according to published accounts of the 1996 trial.

A wrongful conviction involving Acerra and Robinson was that of Sean Ellis, who was convicted of killing another police detective, John Mulligan, in 1993 based on falsified evidence. That case was featured in the Netflix documentary "Trial 4."

Lucien is represented by Mark Loevy-Reyes of Loevy & Loevy.

Counsel information for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was not available.

The case is Lucien v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts, case number 2484CV00520, in the Suffolk County Superior Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

--Editing by Philip Shea.

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