Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Role of accused city cop in criminal cases creating ripples

Suspected shooter goes free after witnesses recant

By Randall Beach
Register Staff
— Ernest Pagan walked out of Superior Court a free man Tuesday afternoon, accompanied by his joyous family, after a jury found him not guilty of murder and attempted murder.
Three witnesses initially identified Pagan as the man who shot to death Tony Howell and seriously wounded James Brown Jr. outside Newt’s Cafe on Whalley Avenue Dec. 24, 2006. But all three witnesses recanted during the trial, saying now-retired police Detective Clarence Willoughby had steered them toward Pagan.
Defense attorney Thomas Ullmann said after the verdict was announced, “I’m gratified the jury looked very carefully at this. I thought the state’s case had incredible holes, and I thought the detectives were untrustworthy.”
The witnesses had been questioned by Willoughby and police Detective Reginald Sutton. Although Willoughby did not testify during the trial because Judge Bruce W. Thompson ruled he might incriminate himself on charges he faces, Sutton testified neither he nor Willoughby influenced the witnesses.
Willoughby has pleaded not guilty to larceny, forgery and making a false statement, all in the second degree. He is accused of stealing from a fund for confidential informants.
“Given the Willoughby situation,” Ullmann said, “I don’t think the state’s attorney should have proceeded with this case.”
“They (prosecutors) tried to hide Willoughby,” he added. “They didn’t even list him as a witness. But his fingerprints are all over this case. The jury had to be sitting there, saying, ‘Where’s Willoughby?’”
Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Mary Elizabeth Baran declined to comment after the verdict. During her closing argument Monday, she told jurors the witnesses changed their accounts of the shooting because they were afraid of being “snitches.”
The 12 jurors had deliberated for an hour Monday after receiving the case at about 4 p.m. When they returned Tuesday morning, they asked to have the tapes of the three witnesses’ police statements played again. It was in those statements that the witnesses implicated Pagan.
At about 3:45 p.m., the jury foreman sent Thompson a note saying they had reached a verdict. The Pagan and Howell families, sitting on opposite sides of the courtroom, waited tensely.
When the foreman announced the two verdicts, Pagan hugged Ullmann and thanked him.
“I felt great relief,” Ullmann said, “because I’ve always felt Ernest was a totally innocent man.”
Pagan, who is now 29, was working his construction job when he was arrested in February 2007. He spent the following 13 months in prison.
During a phone interview late Tuesday afternoon, his mother, Ernestine Pagan said, “We’re just thanking God right now. I thank God the jury took their time and questioned this.”
She added, “We knew his innocence. We’re just enjoying the victory, although we’re praying for the Howell family. My heart goes out to them.”
She described the period of her son’s prosecution and imprisonment as “13 months of living hell, to be accused of something he didn’t do.”
“I stake my life on my son’s innocence,” she said. “He was with me at the time of the shooting. He was home in my house.”
She added her son is “just thanking God. It’s good to be with family and friends again.”
Randall Beach can be reached at, or 789-5766.

Charges dismissed in manslaughter trial

By Randall Beach
Register Staff
N — A manslaughter charge against a city teenager has been dismissed amid questions about informant funds, alleged “prompting” of witnesses and a lack of others coming forward who saw the slaying of Robert “Scotty” Bennett.
A charge of first-degree manslaughter with a firearm against Errie McClendon, 17, was dropped in Superior Court after a prosecutor said she didn’t have enough evidence to prove her case.
Judge Richard Damiani granted the dismissal motion filed by McClendon’s attorney, John W. Watson.
Damiani and the prosecutor, Assistant State’s Attorney Stacey Haupt, had appealed to the public to provide information about the shooting. Damiani had said, “If people want to keep their streets safe, they’ll come forward.”
During an interview, Watson noted now-retired police Detective Clarence Willoughby was the lead detective in the case. “It certainly affected things,” Watson said.
According to Watson, “there were issues similar to” those in the trial of Ernest Pagan, whom a jury Tuesday found not guilty.
Speaking about the McClendon case, Watson said, “Witnesses claim to have been prompted. They directly contradicted what they had said to police.”
Willoughby’s attorney, Norman Pattis, said Watson’s statement is “ridiculous.” Pattis added, “Clarence Willoughby is not a criminal. He should not be the dartboard of the week for every aggrieved defendant or attorney. They should not look for a scapegoat.”
Willoughby’s colleague in the questioning of witnesses in the Pagan case, police Detective Reginald Sutton, testified the detectives did not influence those witnesses.
Bennett, 20, was shot in the back at the Monterey Place apartment complex in November 2006. Bennett was the son of Dixwell community activist Doug Bethea, who blasted the state’s attorney’s office Tuesday.
If McClendon didn’t pull the trigger, he admitted to police that he was with the person who did, Bethea said, and ran away with the gun.
“I don’t care if the Police Department is having inside problems. You still have to protect and serve the citizens of New Haven, Connecticut. You can’t keep letting murderers walk,” he said.
State’s Attorney Michael Dearington said neither he nor Haupt would comment on the dismissal of charges against McClendon.
However, a source said police are still investigating the murder.
Randall Beach can be reached at or 789-5766.

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