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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6 comments
nate.mims
nate.mims

If it were in my family, I would certainly want the people who shot and killed my relative locked up.  But I wouldn't want everyone they are assosicated with to be in jail too. 

Then again, there are members of my family that I think would deserve to be killed, particularly those who decided to sell drugs out of a day care center.  I would have pushed to have them kicked out of my family which would have left them open for an attack like this.  We don't believe in drug transactions around children and have very stiff penalties for that in my family.

nate.mims
nate.mims

DJ Nitti -

I understand how it can be unquestionable that he should have gone to the police right away, however when you consider that the actual shooters in the case were members of a gang, which had other members who weren't there, he would in essence have been signing his death sentence.  It's easy to say he should have done this or that, however unless you are in a situation like that, it's hard to know what's best to do.  Plus, if he had gone to the police, and they didn't arrest White or Glover right away, those two know that by silencing him then they get to walk.  All things considered, it's a really tough spot to be in and I for one, would not have gone to the police right away either. 

DJ NITTI
DJ NITTI

I get what you're saying and that's probably why most people dont hang out with gangbangers in the first place. I mean it's a cute story and all, the innocent good boy just happened to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time with some bad boys and doesnt know what was happening, but we all know better than that. I grew up in the hood and I knew that if I hung out gangbangers the chances of getting into trouble were exponentially greater than if I hung out with the neighborhood basketball players. Bottom line is that he was part of a group that shot and killed a man. If the victim was your family member you'd probably want them all prosecuted. He got off lucky and I hope he can make the most of it and stays out if trouble in the future but he's extremely lucky cause as far as I'm concerned he's an accessory to murder.

roundelay78
roundelay78

@DJ NITTI  

Extremely lucky how?  Being dumb enough to hang out with some guys he barely knew shouldn't have gotten him locked up that long in the first place, especially when the real murderer lied about Drayton to save his own behind. He wasn't the killer, so he shouldn't have been locked up in the first place,because it wasn't his fault.  And he wasn't a gang member, so he was hardly "part" of their group, as you put it.  Plus he admitted to not even knowing all that mess was going to go down. Yeah, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but losing five years of his life in jail for a crime he didn't coit? Not a doggone thing "lucky" about that.

DJ NITTI
DJ NITTI

I'm usually pretty liberal on these issues but it's really hard to be sympathetic towards someone that was with a group of guys that killed someone and didn't immediately go to the police to report it. I get that he was scared for his safety but that's no excuse. If the purpose of the story is to highlight how long these cases take to go through the legal system, I agree that's wrong and should be addressed but if I were on that jury I'm not sure I would let him off with just a gun charge. At the end if the day someone is dead and not only did this guy admit to having a gun but also shooting it during the assault and didn't come forward until he was facing serious jail time. With that being said I do think the DAs abuse their power by giving what they know are guilty parties extremely lenient sentences in exchange for cooperation to find less culpable defendants guilty and that is not only wrong but dangerous, especially when they allow dangerous individuals to get out of jail to commit more crimes. Overall the five years Donovan did seem justified if not lenient for his involvement in a murder.

DJ NITTI
DJ NITTI

I'm usually pretty liberal on these issues but it's really hard to be sympathetic towards someone that was with a group of guys that killed someone and didn't immediately go to the police to report it. I get that he was scared for his safety but that's no excuse. If the purpose of the story is to highlight how long these cases take to go through the legal system, I agree that's wrong and should be addressed but if I were on that jury I'm not sure I would let him off with just a gun charge. At the end if the day someone is dead and not only did this guy admit to having a gun but also shooting it during the assault and didn't come forward until he was facing serious jail time. With that being said I do think the DAs abuse their power by giving what they know are guilty parties extremely lenient sentences in exchange for cooperation to find less culpable defendants guilty and that is not only wrong but dangerous, especially when they allow dangerous individuals to get out of jail to commit more crimes. Overall the five years Donovan did seem justified if not lenient for his involvement in a murder.

 
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