Calvin Buari, the subject of a January 2015 BuzzFeed News investigation, was ordered to be freed from prison on Friday after a Bronx judge vacated his murder conviction because of newly discovered evidence. Buari, 46, had been incarcerated on a 50-years-to-life sentence for a 1992 shooting even though another man, Dwight Robinson, had confessed to the crime in a 2003 affidavit.
Buari’s appeal, filed in October 2015, was based on recent statements by eight witnesses, five of whom provided affidavits in 2015. Two witnesses, Kimberlia Clark and Caroline Brown, said they came forward after reading the BuzzFeed News story.
Four of the new witnesses, including Brown, claimed to have seen the shooting and stated that the gunman was not Buari. Three witnesses, including Clark, claimed that they saw Robinson commit the murders.
Robinson was one of six members of Buari’s former drug-dealing crew to testify against him at his 1995 murder trial. Buari had been charged with fatally shooting Elijah and Salhaddin Harris while they sat in a car in the Bronx. Four of the witnesses received leniency on pending gun or drug charges in exchange for their testimony. The fifth received immunity for his alleged role in the shooting, as well as a letter from the DA’s office recommending him for early release from an unrelated prison sentence.
Eight years after the trial, Robinson wrote in an affidavit that his trial testimony “was a lie. I killed the Harris brothers. I killed them due to a drug dispute.” He stated that he “pinned this double murder on Calvin Buari because of a dispute between Calvin and me, and because I wanted complete control of my drug spot.”
But after speaking with two detectives in 2004, Robinson recanted his confession. He explained, in a January 2015 interview with BuzzFeed News, that the detectives “told me that if I helped him, I’d never go home. They wanted me to take back my confession to keep him locked up.” In exchange for his cooperation, he said, they also offered him money and promised to make it easier for his family to visit him. “They don’t play fair,” he told BuzzFeed News. “They really don’t play fair.”
In that 2015 BuzzFeed News interview — his only public statements outside of his affidavits — Robinson reaffirmed his 2003 statement that Buari was innocent.
"I want to help him out. But I don't want to rot in here for the rest of my life. If they know I'm helping him out, I'm done. They'll make sure I never get out,” he said. “I was there. I saw what happened. Cal was there, too. The gun was not in his hand.”
But when asked if he was the shooter, Robinson replied, “Anybody coulda done it. Coulda been anybody.”
Robinson, who is currently locked up for an unrelated murder conviction, did not take the stand in the April hearings for Buari’s appeal.
His testimony, apparently, was not necessary.
Buari’s case is the latest in a long line of recently vacated convictions in the Bronx, the county with the fifth-highest rate of documented wrongful convictions per capita in America from 1989 to 2013, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.
The Bronx District Attorney's Office said that it planned to appeal the decision or retry the case. Judge Eugene Oliver set the new trial date for July 17.
Though the DA’s office requested that Oliver set Buari’s bail at $500,000, the judge ordered that Buari be released on his own recognizance. But because the New York State Department of Corrections does not process prison releases after 4 p.m. on Fridays, Buari will spend the weekend in the Green Haven Correctional Facility before getting released on Monday.