After more than three decades behind bars, Carlton Roman walked out of Queens Supreme Court a free man Monday, Aug. 9, when murder and attempted murder charges against him were dropped.
Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz and Roman’s defense team filed a joint motion to vacate his conviction for the murder of Lloyd Witter and the attempted murder of Jomo Kenyatta in Jamaica in 1989.
Queens Supreme Court Justice Michelle Johnson vacated the conviction and all charges against 59-year-old Roman based on newly discovered witnesses and evidence that contradicted significant aspects of the trial testimony was used to convict him.
“I am committed to the fair administration of justice. In that pursuit, my office seeks to ensure that those who are guilty face appropriate consequences and those who have been wrongfully convicted are exonerated,” Katz said. “Vacating Mr. Roman’s conviction emphasizes the fact that although these cases are difficult and strenuous to investigate, my Conviction Integrity Unit will do everything it takes to ensure that the right and just result is reached.”
According to court records, on March 16, 1989, Lloyd Witter and Jomo Kenyatta were shot multiple times at a home in Jamaica resulting in Witter’s death and Kenyatta’s permanent need for a wheelchair. Paul Anderson lived at the house and was found by the police outside, bound with telephone wire and handcuffed, and in close proximity to Witter’s body.
Anderson and Kenyata identified Carlton Roman, a close friend of Witter’s, as one of the shooters and the ringleader of the group. After his arrest, police found no forensic or ballistic evidence linking Roman, whose alibi was corroborated by his girlfriend, to the shooting. There was also no DNA or fingerprint evidence linking Roman to the shooting.
Roman was tried, convicted and sentenced for the crime based solely on the testimony of those two witnesses. Roman, at the time a recent graduate from Queensborough Community College with no criminal record, testified that he was not involved with the shooting.
He submitted his case for re-investigation to the Queens County District Attorney’s Office in 2013 and 2018, but the conviction was left unchanged.
Katz’s Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) began its investigation in April 2020 and interviewed more than 30 witnesses across the country and on the Island of Jamaica, and according to the motion filed in court Monday, CIU’s investigation uncovered new evidence that would have changed the outcome of the trial, including a 2019 recantation by Paul Anderson in which he stated Roman was not one of the shooters and that he falsely accused Roman.
Anderson confirmed that Roman was not one of the assailants and that he had not seen Roman at his house the entire day of the crime. During the course of the initial police investigation and CIU investigation, Anderson provided at least six distinctly different versions of how the shooting occurred. Most are inconsistent with each other and the facts of the crime, according to the motion.
Three new witnesses who undermine the trial testimony of Anderson and Kenyatta included a retired police officer who received and documented Anderson’s initial description of the shooters, none of which fit Roman. No testimony or evidence offered at trial by either party referenced these initial descriptions provided by Anderson.
A new witness, who was friends with Anderson, Kenyatta and Roman, described the narcotics activity of Anderson and Kenyatta, as well as Kenyatta’s violent nature and profession as a drug boss, which provides a substantial motive for others to have committed the crime. Another new witness described the friendly relationship between the deceased victim and Roman and contradicted the trial testimony regarding statements supposedly made by Roman around the time of his arrest.
New evidence further undermines confidence in the testimony of Kenyatta, who falsely minimized his criminal history at trial and used various aliases to conceal his criminal activity.
“During the Conviction Integrity Unit’s investigation, prosecutors and seasoned homicide detectives personally interviewed over 30 witnesses in different states and countries painstakingly reviewed countless files, and conducted a thorough re-examination of the crime scene,” Katz said. “This case, and the dedication of the CIU and the expeditiousness with which they conducted this investigation, exemplify that we are not so arrogant to think that the system doesn’t make mistakes. When we find miscarriages of justice, we do everything in our power to correct them quickly.”
After his conviction was vacated by Justice Johnson, Roman thanked Katz and her CIU and urged his friends who remain wrongfully imprisoned to “never give up.” The Conviction Integrity Unit has now vacated nine convictions in less than two years since its inception.
As he left the courtroom, the married father of two had mixed emotions.
“I feel fantastic right now. I feel great right now,” Roman said. “Anybody here can imagine how it feels to be literally in hell. The justice system, everybody knows is broken. I’m here now but there are a lot of people in there that need your help and attention on their cases right now. As for my brothers who are in there right now, man, fighting for justice I salute you all. Stand strong!”
Additional reporting by Dean Moses.