Poster-Boy Perp

How Lester Pearson Became a Permanent Suspect

In the ensuing years, according to the 47th Precinct detective who monitored Lester Pearson's scrapes with the law, "his anger escalated." Despite the fact that he used several aliases—Terrance Stallings, Shawn Wellington Dillinger, Shane Dillinger, and Tony Parks—cops began linking Pearson to more hardcore crimes.

New York City Department of Corrections records show that Pearson first entered the prison system on February 24, 1994, after he was remanded on a charge of second-degree attempted murder. He was held at the adolescent detention center on Rikers Island and was bailed out three days later. (That charge eventually was dropped.) About two years later, Pearson surfaced in Jacksonville, Florida, working as a clerk, and was arrested on felony kidnapping and weapon-possession charges by the sheriff's office. These charges were dropped in August 1996. Upon his return to New York—with the attempted murder rap still hanging over his head—police stopped a car in which Pearson was sitting with three others. Pearson was arrested for third-degree criminal possession of a weapon and jailed again at Rikers on September 5, 1996.

Reason to live: Lester Pearson Jr. and son Greg, five
photo: courtesy of the Pearson family
Reason to live: Lester Pearson Jr. and son Greg, five

The 10 months Pearson spent on Rikers awaiting trial took a heavy toll on his mother—a former dietary supervisor at Goldwater Memorial Hospital on Roosevelt Island—who was injured in a fall and forced to retire. "Oh, man, it tore her to pieces," her husband recalls. "She was very sick, but every visiting day she dragged her sick body to go visit Junior in jail. Sometimes when she got there they would say, 'Oh, the jail is on lockdown, you can't see anybody.' She would come back home and go back the next day."

On the morning of May 10, 1997, Mrs. Pearson told her husband she did not want to be alone that day. Pearson remained by his wife's side until she sent him on an errand. "I come back and I found her on the bed, dead," he laments. They had been married for 36 years. "My world did stop," he reflects. His son's world unraveled, too. Because some correction officers considered Lester a troublemaker, he says, they seized every opportunity to retaliate against him. When a social worker sought permission for Lester to attend his mother's wake, guards tried to provoke a confrontation to keep him locked up, his father charges.

"He said they stripped him naked and put him in a bathroom for seven hours just to get him to say something, to get him to do something so they could find a reason not to let him out to come to his mother's wake," he contends. But his son, he asserts, was onto the guards' scheme. Lester bottled up his rage.

At the wake, a correction officer who escorted Lester suddenly pulled him aside and began to search him. According to his father, the officer believed that Lester's three-year-old daughter, Jeuelle, who had been sitting on his lap, had slipped him contraband. Except for a condolence card with the 23rd Psalm printed on it clutched in his hand, the officer found nothing. After being allowed to pay his respects, Lester was returned to Rikers. "Why did you bring this back?" a guard allegedly shouted after finding the card. "You're not supposed to bring anything back!"

"This is my mother's," Lester explained.

"Fuck your mother!" the guard allegedly snapped. At which point the grieving inmate struck out at the turnkey. "That guy kicked out three of his front teeth," his father says, adding that Lester told him other officers had jumped him and beat him with their keys. "They treated him so bad in there—they almost killed him."

After he was treated at a hospital, Lester was thrown into an isolation cell. There, authorities allege, he threw urine in a guard's face. He was charged with aggravated harassment under a law that punishes unruly inmates who fling bodily substances, including blood, feces, and urine, at prison staffers. "He said it wasn't urine, it was Jell-O," his father insists. "They beat him." (Tom Antennen, a spokesman for the corrections department, said he did not know how the matter was resolved and could not comment on Pearson's allegations.)

After that encounter, a social worker finally got Pearson transferred to the Brooklyn House of Detention. On July 15, 1997, he was released on bail on the weapon and harassment charges. Two months later, he pled guilty to the gun charge. (He would be sentenced to a conditional discharge in February 1998.) But cops stayed on his trail. According to his father, Lester was wanted for questioning in the attempted murder of a man on Boston Road. "They said that he had shot somebody, but it wasn't him. He kept going back and forth to court every day until the case was thrown out." Not long after Lester beat that rap, detectives came knocking on his father's door. They claimed that Lester had witnessed the shooting of another man in Co-Op City. "They said they heard that he was there."

On December 7, 1997, Lester's best friend, Kuwuan Burgess, was shot and killed. Details are sketchy, but police speculated that Lester was the triggerman—an accusation at which his father scoffs. He says Burgess, whose parents and grandparents live up the street from him, was like a son. "Every day in the week that he was killed, he came over to my home and I cook and I feed him and Junior. Both of them slept and ate here."

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