Jerome Thagard was sentenced to 25 to life when he was just 16 years old for a murder he did not commit. He was released in December 2013 on bond after his attorney, John J. Molloy, filed a motion to vacate his conviction. On January 13, 2014, the Erie County (NY) District Attorney’s Office joined in the motion to vacate Thagard’s conviction and dismissed the murder charge against Thagard.
Thagard was charged of first degree murder after three witnesses testified against him saying that he walked up to Steven Northrup and his 21-year old girl friend arguing, asked her if he wanted her to shoot him, and before she had a chance to answer, he did so. Northrup’s girlfriend and two witnesses sitting nearby picked Thagard out of a photo line up and identifying him as the suspect. Northrup’s girlfriend, however, did not identify the shooter at first. Then, after being pressured by the detective questioning her, she picked the picture who looked most like the shooter, and that happened to be Jerome Thagard. During the trial, Thagard had no witnesses testify on his behalf, although he had a solid alibi. A few months after Thagard had already been convicted and spent months in prison, the Buffalo (NY) police learned the same gun used in the murder Thagard was charged and convicted of was also used in two other homicides three weeks after Thagard was taken into custody for the murder of Steven Northrup.
Once this new information arose, the case was reopened in 2010. In this second investigation the three eyewitnesses recanted their previous statements. According to the District Attorney, “they indicated that Thagard looked like the gunman but they had not been sure he was.” Other details soon arose and the eyewitnesses all signed statements saying they were pressured by detectives.
Thagard, who had been enjoying an evening of watching television with his mom during the murder, will get to do a lot more of that now, after being released following almost four years behind bars. He finished high school while in prison and now says he plans on going to college and make up for lost time.