The Ballad of Donovan Drayton

He spent five years in jail awaiting trial. Call it justice, Queens-style.

There was precious little evidence to tie Drayton to the crime. No fingerprints. No blood. No surveillance video or photos. Neither the gun taken from Bent nor the .38 used by Glover were ever recovered. There was no conclusive evidence that any of Bent's wounds were caused by the .45 Drayton admitted to firing in the air.

The case boiled down to the testimony of Anthony Wright, Jason White, Craig Glover, and Drayton. It became an example of how the sausage is made in Queens.

White copped to his past as a stick-up artist and admitted to involvement in planning the robbery. He had originally faced 25 years in prison. But Clark handed him a seven-year deal as long as he cooperated.

Donovan and Ronny Drayton on the stoop outside their Queens home
By Caleb Ferguson
Donovan and Ronny Drayton on the stoop outside their Queens home
Dwight Bent was fatally shot outside this home in Jamaica, Queens.
By Caleb Ferguson
Dwight Bent was fatally shot outside this home in Jamaica, Queens.

White testified that Drayton helped plan the robbery and brought the guns. He said Drayton admitted shooting Bent in the leg.

But White also denied being a gang member, and his testimony was filled with inconsistencies. He admitted that he was going to make a deal as soon as he got arrested. And he admitted to lying to police on the day of the murder. He further confessed that because he thought Drayton ratted him out, his anger moved him to cooperate.

"Everybody lies," he said at the end of his testimony. "I mean, who doesn't lie?"

Anthony Wright, a rifle-toting drug dealer doing business over his sister's day care center, also got a favorable deal from Clark. The police could have charged him with attempted murder for firing the assault rifle. Instead, they charged him with criminal use of a weapon. Clark sweetened the deal further by agreeing to three years probation if Wright cooperated.

Wright testified that Drayton initially "put a gun" to Bent. But his testimony was also riddled with inconsistencies. He withheld information from the police—like the fact he fired first, that Glover and White had previously robbed him, and that he had an assault rifle.

Since the shooting, Wright had been arrested twice—once for punching his stepfather in the face and again just before the trial, when cops raided his home, which was still being used as a day care center, and found guns, cocaine, and heroin. Even so, Wright was released without bail. Neither arrest affected his deal.

The defense called convicted murderer William Thornton to testify. According to Thornton, White told him that Drayton didn't know anything about the robbery plan; he was brought along as a scapegoat just in case things went bad. But Clark argued that since White was not first confronted with the statement, Thornton's testimony should not be allowed.

Judge Robert McGann agreed. So Drayton's attorney, Douglas Reda, tried to recall White.

McGann denied this, too, saying the defense had had plenty of time to ask White about the statement.

Irked, Reda asked the judge, "The only reason you are denying this is that you think his [Drayton's] right to cross-examine and call his own witnesses is less important than an extra day of this trial on a murder case?"

Reda then tried to call Glover to testify about his recantation. McGann grudgingly allowed it, but after promising Reda an hour to prep his witness, the judge ended up giving him just a few minutes.

McGann had effectively botched two key witnesses. He'd also approved the lavish plea deals. To the Draytons, the truth seemed trapped behind an iron screen, visible yet out of reach.

The lone defense witness was Cyonne Malcolm, who testified she was with Drayton the entire night before the shooting, and he had never met with Glover and White. But despite having much of his defense hindered, the jury nonetheless acquitted Drayton on the three most serious counts—first-degree murder, weapons possession, and manslaughter. It had hung on the other counts: felony murder, being an accessory to murder, robbery, and attempted robbery.

Drayton's team say the verdict was 10-2 in favor of acquittal, but Kevin Ryan, a spokesman for the Queens District Attorney's office, said in a statement, "I do not know if that is accurate."

Clark immediately opted to retry Drayton, requested that Drayton continue to be held at Rikers. Despite the acquittals, McGann once again ordered him held without bail.

Drayton spent the final two years and eight months of his jail stint in the Anna M. Kross Center. Toward the end, the martial pace of jail was wearing on him. But he never thought of pleading.

"They are used to wearing everyone down," he says. "People say, 'Fuck this,' and take the plea. What really propelled me to fight the way that I fought was being innocent. If I had committed this crime, I wouldn't have gambled like this."

Opting for new counsel, the Draytons turned to Brooklyn attorney Michael Warren, a respected defense lawyer with an elegant, understated presence in the courtroom. He famously won a $360,000 settlement after he and his wife sued for a false arrest when they objected to police kicking a drug suspect in the head.

In 2002, the rangy, Indiana-born Warren persuaded convicted rapist Matias Reyes to finally confess to the brutal 1989 rape and assault of female jogger Trisha Meili in Central Park. The attack on Meili was one of the highest-profile crimes in the city's history, and the wrongful convictions of five young black men dominated headlines for years.

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