BALTIMORE (CN) - Police fabricated evidence to pin a woman's 1994 murder on her innocent boyfriend, the man claims in Federal Court, exonerated after 19 years in prison.
Sabein Burgess says Maryland vacated his wrongful conviction on Feb. 21, 2014, after the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project helped him reveal that prosecutors relied on fabricated gun-shot residue evidence.
"Mr. Burgess spent nearly two decades in prison for a murder he did not commit," the March 23 complaint states. "Worse yet, he was convicted of killing a woman he loved."
His attorney, Gail Horn of Loevy & Loevy in Chicago, noted in an interview that "no amount of money will give him back that two decades of his life, but hopefully this lawsuit will give him some justice and true ability to rebuild the life he has now."
Now 44 years old, Burgess spent 19 years in prison for the Oct. 5, 1994, murder in Baltimore of his then-girlfriend, Michelle Dyson.
Burgess said he had just stepped out after Dyson put her four children to bed that night when "two men pushed their way into" the house, brought Dyson down to the basement and shot her.
Police allegedly set their sights on Burgess from the get-go, swabbing his hands at the scene and taking him immediately to the station for interrogation.
Burgess says "no evidence implicating him" in the crime, however, and that he was released from police custody the next morning.
Rather than search for the real killers, Burgess says the police conspired with crime lab employee Daniel Van Gelder over the next month to fabricate gun-shot residue, or GSR, evidence against Burgess.
In a two-day trial that ended with a conviction and life sentence for Burgess, "the primary - and virtually only - evidence used against him was defendant Van Gelder's fabricated GSR findings."
Burgess said police had evidence of his innocence all along. Indeed one of Dyson's sons told them that he had seen the man who barged into the house on the night of the murder.
"The officer defendants asked Ms. Dyson's son if that person was Ms. Dyson's boyfriend," the complaint states. "Ms. Dyson's son told the Defendants that it was not plaintiff.
"Despite the obvious exculpatory value of this statement, it was never disclosed to the prosecutor or to plaintiff or his criminal defense lawyer."
Burgess says Dyson's mother never allowed the boy to talk to him or his attorney, and that he only learned of his witness statement when the Innocence Project intervened five years ago and had police turn over their notes.
"Later, Ms. Dyson's son confirmed via letter and affidavit that he knew that plaintiff was innocent because he saw the offender and it was not plaintiff," the complaint states.
Back in 1994, however, the officers "fabricated police reports stating that all of Ms. Dyson's children were asleep at the time of the shooting and therefore did not see anything," Burgess says.
Though Van Gelder's report claimed that he had taken the swabs from the webbing between Burgess' thumb and forefinger, Burgess says the crime-scene technician only swabbed the inside of the palms of both of his hands.
"That lie was important because Defendant Van Gelder used it to falsely state that the GSR results showed that defendant either fired a gun or was adjacent to a gun that was fired," the complaint states.
Burgess quotes Van Gelder as saying "there could be no other reason for GSR to show up on that part of plaintiff's hands," but indeed it could be explained by accepting that Burgess cradled Dyson in his arms when he found her after the shooting.
Someone also wrote a letter confessing to Dorsey's murder in October 1998, according to the complaint. Burgess says investigators never followed up, however, and claimed that the confession lacked details that the real killer would know.
Disputing this, Burgess notes that the confession accurately described the caliber of weapon used, as well as the correct number and location of the gunshot wounds Dyson had sustained.
This confession also allegedly spoke to the fact removed a safe with money and personal papers had been removed from a second-story bedroom on the night of the murder.
Burgess says police had even questioned the other person whom this confession implicated back in 1996.
The complaint seeks punitive damages against the Baltimore Police Department, Van Gelder, four detectives and two officers, alleging violation of Burgess' due-process rights, as well as malicious prosecution, civil conspiracy and other claims.
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