QUEENS — A man found guilty of murder more than 30 years ago had his conviction vacated in a Queens court room Monday after officials said there was virtually no remaining evidence connecting him to the crime.
So Monday, Carlton Roman stepped into the sunlight as a free man for the first time in three decades, a victim of a justice system he says “everybody knows is broken.” The judge who presided over his release Monday agreed, in part.
Roman was convicted for the March 16, 1989 shooting of Lloyd Witter and Jomo Kenyatta. Kenyatta was left confined to a wheel chair; Witter was killed.
Two witnesses identified Roman as the shooter.
After he was arrested, Roman had faith his name would be cleared; he even had an alibi that was confirmed by his girlfriend.
“I went to the station and I saw him he said ‘Mom, that’s not true, and you know, the guys are gonna come back and say that, you know, they’re lying, it’s not true,’” his mother Arel Phillips recalled.
Despite no physical evidence connecting Roman to the shooting, he was found guilty in 1990, and has been in prison ever since, fighting along with his legal team.
Attorney James Henning explained why he never gave up on Roman’s case: “We knew he was innocent, and we just needed a fresh look at it.”
In 2019, Melinda Katz was elected as the District Attorney of Queens. In 2020, Katz agreed to review Roman’s case.
“In our effort to uncover the truth, I personally authorized my staff to conduct in-person interviews with 30 witnesses scattered across the us and on the island of Jamaica to ensure that we got this right,” Katz said.
The DA’s review found evidence that could have helped prove Roman’s innocence that was never disclosed by prosecutors during his trial. Additionally, a key witness in the case admitted he only identified Roman because he didn’t want to reveal the name of the real shooter.
Katz asked a judge to throw out Roman’s convictions, saying there was no longer any reliable evidence against him.
Roman told the court, “Everybody expects mistakes to be made, I’m not even angry that a mistake was made. But I’m not very pleased that it took 31 years to fix it.”