Judge dismisses cases against men convicted in 1985 murder
TORRINGTON, Conn. (AP) — Two men who spent decades in prison based in part on the erroneous testimony of world-famous forensic expert Henry Lee had all charges against them dismissed Friday by a Connecticut Superior Court judge.
The ruling by Superior Court Judge Dan Shaban came after the state Supreme Court last year vacated the felony murder convictions of Ralph “Ricky” Birch and Shawn Henning in the Dec. 1, 1985, slaying of 65-year-old Everett Carr, of New Milford.
Birch had served more than 30 years of a 55-year sentence for felony murder. Henning, who was 17 when the crime occurred, was granted probation in 2018 under new rules for teenage offenders.
“They say the wheels of justice turn slowly,” Birch told The Hartford Courant outside the courtroom. “That’s a little bit of an understatement. It feels good. It’s been a long time coming.”
Andrew O’Shea, Birch’s attorney, said that despite an extremely bloody crime scene, no DNA evidence was ever found linking the pair to Carr, who had been stabbed 27 times, had his throat cut and suffered seven blows to the head. Despite being identified as suspects shortly after the crime, no blood was found on their clothes or in their car.
During their trials, prosecutors presented evidence from Lee — who would later gain fame as a witness in the O.J. Simpson murder case — that it was possible for the assailants to avoid getting much blood on them.
Lee also testified that a towel, which later was suggested could have been touched by the killers while cleaning up, was found in a bathroom near the crime the scene with stains consistent with blood. But later tests showed it was not blood.
Litchfield State’s Attorney Dawn Gallo told Shaban that the state had decided against retrying the men because witnesses from 1985 have died or recanted testimony and retests of evidence failed to turn up anything tying Birch and Henning to the murder.
In dismissing the charges, Shaban ruled that there is no need for any further investigation of Birch and Carr, who wore T-shirts Friday reading “I didn’t do it,” and “I am innocent.” Friday’s brief hearings for the two men were streamed online.