Jurors at the trial of the gunman accused of killing Tyshawn Lee won’t get to hear from a former cellmate who said Dwright Boone-Doty confessed to killing the 9-year-old and to another murder that happened two weeks earlier, a judge ruled Thursday.
In late 2017, the would-be witness was facing a life sentence for attempted murder when he contacted prosecutors to offer information about his cellmate, Boone-Doty, whom prosecutors have charged in the murder of Lee in 2015 and the murder of 19-year-old Brianna Jenkins.
Boone-Doty’s cellmate wound up pleading guilty to a reduced charge of aggravated battery in exchange for an agreement to testify against Boone-Doty and was on parole for his five-year prison sentence when he took the witness stand at a hearing Thursday. There, prosecutors explained their informant told them only last week that, in fact, while he had heard Boone-Doty admit to killing Tyshawn, he had only heard of how Boone-Doty killed Jenkins from other inmates.
“I misunderstood” what he had stated in a signed plea agreement last year, the man said during cross-examination by Boone-Doty’s lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Danita Ivory. “I said ‘I heard that about the case.'”
“You didn’t want to spend your life in prison, did you?” Ivory asked.
“No ma’am,” the witness mumbled.
Trying to keep the informant on the witness list for the Tyshawn Lee case, Assistant State’s Attorney Thomas Darman suggested the witness was reliable because he had, eventually, admitted that he’d only heard about Boone-Doty’s involvement from others and may not have understood the “legal niceties” of his plea deal.
“I’m not arguing that there wasn’t a mistake made by somebody,” Darman said. “If he was trying to get the best deal, he might have added (a murder) and not subtracted.”
Judge Thaddeus Wilson said it appeared that the witness was more interested in his “sweetheart deal” with prosecutors.
“Without corroboration, with his (criminal) background, how am I to believe him now, when he was lying then?” Wilson said.
According to the witness’ 2018 plea deal, while he was cellmates with Boone-Doty in 2017, the accused killer told him that he’d been seeking revenge on rival gang members who had shot Boone-Doty’s mother and killed his brother. Boone-Doty allegedly told his cellmate he spotted Tyshawn, the son of a member of the “Killa Ward” street gang, on the basketball courts at Dawes Park and lured him into a nearby alley, where he shot the 7-year-old in the face and that “Tyshawn Lee’s face was smoking.”
Jenkins also was a casualty of the feud between Boone-Doty and Killa Ward, according to the man’s plea agreement, which stated Boone-Doty told him that he shot the 19-year-old as she sat in the passenger seat of a car driven by her Killa Ward boyfriend.
Wilson’s ruling was a blow to the prosecution, and a rare successful challenge of a witness under state law that took effect this year, requiring “reliability hearings” for informants and disclosure of any benefits they received for their testimony.
It was not all good news for Boone-Doty at Thursday’s hearing. He also was sentenced to seven years in prison in a separate gun case.