Barry Kamara has fought for nearly 32 years to prove that he wasn’t the gunman who killed a fellow teenager on Dakota Street in Dorchester.
Those efforts paid off Tuesday, when Suffolk Superior Court Judge James Lang said he plans to throw out Kamara’s 1992 murder conviction. The case that first sent Kamara behind bars at age 17 had fallen apart because prosecutors and police withheld evidence that pointed to potential other killers.
Prosecutors now acknowledge that the police reports and other material, including a phone message in which the victim’s mother identified another suspect, should have been turned over to Kamara’s attorneys three decades ago. The prosecutor and detective in Kamara’s case have also been implicated in another wrongful conviction, a homicide in Roxbury that occurred just days later in May 1991.
After Tuesday’s hearing, Kamara’s eyes watered as he thanked his attorneys and the new prosecutor, David Lewis, who urged the judge to overturn the verdict.
“I just knew I was innocent,” Kamara said. “It’s been a long time — a very, very long time. Emotionally, spiritually, there was a great harm that was done, an injustice to say the least.”
He served 16 years in prison before earning parole in 2008. Since his release, Kamara rebuilt his life in Greater Boston despite the threat of deportation to his native Sierra Leone because of the conviction.
Kamara’s attorney, Amy Belger, noted the similarity between his case and the other wrongful conviction. Both cases involved “shaky witness identifications that improved over time” and withheld evidence.
“It establishes a pattern of systemic misconduct,” said Belger, who handled both cases and has urged a review of convictions by the same investigators. “There’s a moral imperative to do it when you look at these two cases right next to each other.
The investigators in both cases — former Suffolk assistant district attorney James Larkin and former Boston police sergeant detective Daniel Flynn — are dead, according to Kamara’s attorney.
Suffolk District Attorney Kevin Hayden had urged the judge to throw out Kamara’s conviction. In court filings, Hayden vowed to dismiss the charges because of what he described as failure to disclose evidence that would “have provided significant aid to the defendant’s case.”
In a statement Tuesday, Hayden commended Kamara for pushing his case and said his office would “not defend improper trial procedures and we will not tolerate prosecutors breaking rules to secure convictions.”
Kamara’s is just the latest decades-old Suffolk County murder conviction to be overturned in court. Since 2019, judges have thrown out murder and rape convictions against more than a dozen Boston men, almost all of whom, like Kamara, are Black and had been sentenced to life in prison.
The prosecutor and detective in Kamara’s case were also behind the wrongful conviction of Robert Foxworth, who served nearly 30 years in prison before his December 2020 release.
Foxworth attended Tuesday’s hearing to support Kamara and serve as a reminder of the lasting impact of law enforcement misconduct. Foxworth and Kamara met in the Nashua Street jail in 1991 but didn’t realize the similarities in their plights.
“I used to sit there and tell him I’m getting charged with something I didn’t do,” Foxworth recalled. “He would say the same thing. I never put two and two together.”
Hayden’s office did not address whether it would systematically review cases handled by Flynn and Larkin, but the district attorney encouraged people to contact his office if they believe they are victims of prosecutorial or police misconduct.
Records obtained by the Globe show that Flynn handled at least 10 homicide investigations in the early 1990s. A spokesperson for the Boston Police Department could not immediately provide a list of Flynn’s other cases. Boston police also declined to say whether Kamara’s case has sparked a broader review of Flynn’s work.
This is not the first time local law enforcement officials have been linked to more than one wrongful conviction. In December, a judge overturned the fourth murder conviction that involved Boston police detective Peter O’Malley, an investigator who died in 2017.
In that case, Raymond Gaines served 46 years in prison for a 1974 murder in Roxbury. Hayden’s office has not said whether it plans to retry Gaines.
Born in Sierra Leone, Kamara was brought to the United States at age 11 by his father, who moved to live with his wife, an American citizen. Kamara grew up in what his lawyers described as an increasingly violent neighborhood in Dorchester.
At 17, Kamara was accused of “a cold blood killing,” according to the trial prosecutor. Police alleged that on May 16, 1991, Kamara walked up Dakota Street and fatally shot 19-year-old Ronald Taylor at close range.
From the beginning, Kamara argued that it was a case of mistaken identity and that he had nothing to do with the killing.
No physical evidence tied Kamara to the crime. Prosecutors now acknowledge that the testimony from witnesses who identified Kamara was weak.
The behavior of Larkin, the trial prosecutor, was even more problematic. According to court records, Larkin ignored a ruling from the trial judge that barred him from suggesting Kamara was a member of a local street gang. The judge ruled there was not evidence Kamara was a gang member, but Larkin repeatedly elicited references about gangs from witnesses, including from Flynn, the lead detective.
A juror on the case took the issue a step further. She told her fellow jurors that she knew Kamara, said he was in a gang, and believed that he “did it.” The juror was replaced with an alternate, but Kamara was convicted of second-degree murder and a gun charge and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
After his parole in 2008, Kamara was held by federal immigration authorities because his conviction voided his green card. Immigration officials released him in 2009, but the threat of deportation remains.
Since his release, Kamara has settled in Boston and works for the Boston Water and Sewer Commission. He has two children and is an active member of the local African immigrant community.
On Tuesday, Kamara remained awestruck that his name will finally be cleared.
“I have a lot of gratitude for the support I have received since day one,” he said.