Name That Criminal

In a notorious murder case, Rohan Bolt is doing the time. Did someone else do the crime?

His mother has also become a prisoner of sorts. A fireplug of a woman, Melba Pickersgill came to New York from Jamaica in 1967 to work. In 1974, at the age of 13, her son joined her. She worked two jobs—nurse by day, home health aide at night—for nearly 40 years and, at 68, should be retired. Instead, she sold the modest Orlando retirement home she bought years ago and poured the proceeds, along with all her savings, into legal fees. As long as her only child remains locked up, she must keep working. "What else can I do?" she says.

Pickersgill paid for a polygraph test, which her son "passed with flying colors," according to the private investigator who administered it. Such tests, however, aren't reliable, and they're not used in court. DNA is another matter. Post-conviction DNA exonerations have become so seemingly common—205 since 1989, according to the Innocence Project—that some argue they have created the false impression that the criminal-justice system now corrects most of its mistakes. Just watch CSI. But Seton Hall law professor David Feige, a former Bronx public defender, noted back in a 2003 New York Times Magazine essay that most cases don't revolve around DNA, and that "the reality is that most criminal cases are muddled, confusing affairs, rife with conflicting testimony, jumbled loyalties, complex motivations and equivocal evidence."

Prosecutors usually have no choice but to concede when it comes to DNA. For the rest of the cases, it often takes not only overwhelming evidence of innocence but proof of another's guilt before the system entertains the idea of reversing itself. That type of proof seems necessary in Bolt's case, especially when you consider that Queens D.A. Richard Brown just last month was awarded the 2007 Police Officer Charles A. Davis Award for Outstanding Community Service.

'My name is not Roti, I am the wrong person.'
Sean Gardiner
'My name is not Roti, I am the wrong person.'

In Bolt's case, is that replacement suspect Wayne "Ratti" Page? Ten days after the Davis-Epstein murders, Detective Bovino submitted a fingerprint-analysis report listing 34 people whose fingerprints police checked against the ones recovered from the store. On that list were Bell, Johnson, Bigweh, and Bolt. All were negative. In fact, all of the 34 were negative.

But also on the list was Wayne Page. Police, in other words, considered him likely enough a suspect to check his prints.

Bovino says he doesn't recall Page's name and nickname "Ratti." In general, however, he describes why Page and the other names might surface on such a list of possible suspects: "If you're conducting an investigation, you might look at past crimes or similar crimes. You might take people who are known to be in the area from parole or from their street names."

There's no doubt that Page was a bad guy. Two years after the Davis-Epstein murders, on January 22, 1999, in Flatbush, Page and others dragged Venniel Nephew into a van and pistol-whipped him; Page shot him once in the back before pushing out of the moving vehicle. Nephew survived but got death threats not to testify against Ratti. He did so anyway, and Page was convicted and sentenced to 22 years to life. "What the police told us," says Nephew's wife, Vielka, "is he [Ratti] was involved in a ton of things, but they had never been able to nail him on anything because nobody ever cooperated."

More important to Bolt's case is that Ratti Page was arrested 10 days after the Davis- Epstein murders—after that case was supposedly solved, but while carrying a gun of a similar make and appearance as one of the murder weapons used against Davis and Epstein.

On January 1, 1997, only a week after Bolt was arrested, a police officer spotted Page in the hallway of 693 Flatbush Avenue holding a gun. "Don't move!" the cop screamed, pulling out his own pistol. Ratti threw the gun down and tried to run, but was caught. Recovered was a 9mm black Beretta with one spent shell in it and two live rounds. Page pleaded guilty in July 1997 to gun possession and received six months.

That leads to a lot of ifs: If "Ratti," not "Roti," was involved in the Davis-Epstein murders, and if he didn't get rid of the gun, and if this gun matched the shell casings recovered from the check-cashing store, then Rohan Bolt has a pretty good case for overturning his conviction. If.

Wayne "Ratti" Page, imprisoned at the state pen in Elmira, didn't respond to several requests for an interview. Last month, however, he called me out of the blue and said, "I'm from Brooklyn, all my crimes are in Brooklyn. I never did nothing in Queens. All the people I rob are drug dealers. I don't rob no grocery store, no check-cashing store, nothing. All I do is drug dealers. Legitimate people I don't fuck with. You get real time for that." Then he hung up.

A detective who has known Ratti for years, and who spoke to the Voice on the condition of anonymity, says that although Page operated mostly in Brooklyn, his sources told him that Page was rumored to have been involved in "something out in Queens." That's all the detective says he knows.

So it all may hinge on Ratti's Beretta. A Freedom of Information Law request by the Voice to the Brooklyn district attorney's office produced a preliminary ballistics report showing that the gun bore evidence of having been fired and that the gun and ammunition were deemed "operable."

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