Falsely accused murderer Shawn Drumgold spoke to an audience of Boston University students yesterday about his difficult experience with the media and the legal system for the first time since being released from his 15-year prison term.
“It’s my first time in front of a big group,” said Drumgold, 38, whose life sentence was cut short when he was officially freed on Nov. 6. He stood at a podium surrounded by his wife, Rachelle, his daughter, Kiara, his lawyer, Rosemary Scapicchio, and BU Professor Dick Lehr, who has written numerous articles about the case.
The August 1998 gang-related shooting in Roxbury that left 12-year-old Darlene Tiffany Moore dead came to symbolize the drug and gang problem plaguing Boston, according to Lehr. The media embraced the scandal in its search for justice once Drumgold and his friend had been named as suspects, with headlines like the Boston Herald’s “Tiffany Killer Jailed.”
“I couldn’t even read it. Still today I have a hard time reading it,” said Drumgold as Lehr held up photocopies of bold headlines.
Tiffany and other children were sitting outside that evening when a white Suzuki drove by. Three men wearing Halloween masks jumped out of the car, started shooting, and then sped away. Police originally believed that the incident was part of a drug war between the rival Castlegate and Humboldt street gangs.
“I was a small-time drug dealer, but I was not a gang member,” said Drumgold, who added that once he proved this fact at his trial, the prosecutor changed his accusation to “hired help for Castlegate.”
“Tiffany’s brother used to hang out with my wife’s brother,” said Drumgold. “We was friends [with the family] before this happened. Tiffany used to come over and watch movies.”
Drumgold recalled Tiffany’s mother, Alice Moore, saying she believed in the conviction but thought the police did not arrest the right person. He has not yet been in contact with any members of Tiffany’s family.
Drumgold’s lawyer, Scapicchio, said she was hesitant to represent him initially because she had just started practicing law, but after meeting with Drumgold at Walpole state prison and reading the police transcripts she realized, “The way the Commonwealth prosecuted Shawn concerned me a great deal.”
Scapicchio said that new facts about the trial kept resurfacing and the prosecution’s case lost its credibility with her. She mentioned that Boston police stopped a white Suzuki four minutes after the 911 call about the shooting, but let the car go without searching it. One suspect, Theron “Apple” Davis, was present in the car. The incident was not reported for 13 months.
In spite of all that he has been through, Drumgold said he harbors no bitterness towards the police.
“You have good, you have bad. Not every officer that’s out there is bad,” he explained.
For Drumgold, the same holds true of the media: “When I was first locked up, the media was really hard on me… because they didn’t have the right information,” he reasoned, adding that journalists “are the voices of the world.”
“If Dick [Lehr] didn’t write the stories he did… there’s no way the DA would have agreed to have an evidentiary hearing and Shawn wouldn’t be standing here today,” said Scapicchio, who claimed that media attention drew the public’s concern for Drumgold and put pressure on the legal system.
Drumgold’s daughter, who had been silent throughout his speech, explained that this experience helped shape her life plans.
“My father’s been incarcerated all my life,” said Kiara. She said she wants to tell this story and others, then added, “I think I want to be a journalist.”