The Ballad of Donovan Drayton

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

Warren set about getting Drayton out of jail. He appealed to a state appellate panel in Brooklyn, arguing that the length of detention was unfair. The chief judge described the length of Drayton's pre-trial detention as "appalling and an outrage."

"This happens in Queens a lot, and the objective is to break a person down and force a plea," Warren says. "Judges are put in a position of either accepting or rejecting remand and I think they are afraid to cross the district attorney, so they go along with it."

In a lengthy rebuttal, Ryan, the spokesman for the Queens D.A., said the no-bail recommendation in this case was appropriate given that Drayton was facing life in prison. "Bail is set by the judge—not by the D.A.'s office," he wrote in a statement.

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.

After the first trial, he said, the D.A.'s office sought remand again because, despite the acquittals, Drayton was still facing life.

Ryan also blamed the delays after the first trial on Drayton's defense team. ("He's a liar," Ronny Drayton says.)

In October 2012, Donovan Drayton was finally free on bail. "It took five years, but I finally got out."

The second trial was held in July before a typically polyglot Queens jury during a brutal heat wave. The judge was now James Griffin. At lunchtime, people filled the McDonald's down the street from the courthouse to escape skyrocketing temperatures. By then, Jason White—the driver of the getaway car—had already been released from prison.

Craig Glover, meanwhile, was in state prison, serving 23 years for the Bent murder and the Nassau County burglaries. His first chance at parole was 14 years away. And his statement clearing Drayton still hadn't seen the light of day.

Drayton's family and friends filled the gallery. In a bit of gamesmanship, Clark had interns and first-year prosecutors—up to a dozen at times—sit in the front row usually reserved for media and lawyers. They spent much of their time texting and answering e-mails.

Bent's mother sat quietly in the rear of the courtroom, holding silent vigil for her slain son.

Odette Hall, a medical examiner who conducted Bent's autopsy, offered key testimony, but it was what she didn't say that was most telling. Hall did not, could not say that any of the bullets in Bent's body came from a .45 caliber gun—the gun Clark claimed Drayton fired.

In his closing, Clark once again tried to make White and Wright seem credible.

"I've handled a lot of case in my career, and this was a dirty case," Warren says. "Deals like the ones in this case promote perjurious testimony and result in people who are innocent taking the weight. The people who get the breaks are the most culpable."

Warren believes Clark committed misconduct. "He knew they were liars, and he put them on the stand anyway," Warren says. "Their sole objective was to get a conviction. That's suborning perjury."

While not directly responding to Warren's criticism, D.A. spokesman Ryan said when White initially made statements to police, he was not a cooperating witness and had not yet been made any promises of leniency.

"White was cooperated by the prosecution because he was the least culpable," Ryan said. "He never left the car and was not involved in the actual shooting."

As for the Wright deal, Ryan said, the D.A.'s office needed him as a witness. "If we did not cooperate him and get him to testify we would not have been able to legally prosecute the case," he said.

Ryan said Wright's arrest for hitting his stepfather wound up as a noncriminal violation, and he insisted that Wright did not continue to sell drugs after Bent's murder.

In objecting to Thornton's testimony in the first trial, Ryan said Clark was just following the law. "Absolutely nothing prevented the defense from calling Thornton at the second trial," he noted.

As for the handling of Glover's recantation, Ryan denied that prosecutors ignored any of Glover's written statements.

The jury would deliberate for less than a day, coming back with an almost complete acquittal for Drayton, who had aged from a callow 19 to a seasoned 25. His lone conviction was for weapons possession.

In a case that spanned six years, a jury of regular New Yorkers arrived at a verdict that, in the end, closely followed the account that Drayton had given police 10 days after the murder. He had possessed a gun and fired a shot in the air, but he was neither murderer nor robber.

Afterward, jurors told Warren that they didn't think the prosecution's witnesses were credible and were fairly shocked that Clark put them on the stand.

"A number of the jurors wanted to acquit him of everything," he says. "It was a classic compromise verdict. In the end, they wanted to go home."

It was simply how justice is dealt on Queens Boulevard.

Clark appeared stunned, brazenly asking that Drayton be sent back to Rikers pending sentencing in September.

Judge Griffin refused. He ordered Drayton's release, telling him that he had earned a second chance at life and he shouldn't waste it.

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