by Melanie Wilmoth
You can find a NYT update on this story here.
Everton Wagstaffe has been in prison for over 18 years.
Since his arrest, Wagstaffe has unyieldingly claimed his innocence and fought for his release, yet he remains behind bars serving out a 25-year sentence for second degree kidnapping.
Although Wagstaffe completed his minimum sentence several years ago, he remains in prison, refusing to go before the parole board and admit guilt for a crime he did not commit. Several years ago, he qualified for a “conditional release” which would have set him free as long as he followed a strict set of rules and guidelines. Claiming his innocence, Wagstaffe refused to sign the release, not wanting to comply with the guideline requiring him to register as a sex offender.
The case against Wagstaffe began on New Years Day 1992. On this day, 16-year-old Jennifer Negron was kidnapped in Brooklyn, New York. Hours after the kidnapping, her body was discovered dead in the street.
Within hours of discovering Negron’s body, investigators singled out Wagstaffe and another man, Reginald Conner, in association with the kidnapping. Both men had prior convictions, Wagstaffe for drug sales and Conner for robbery.
Strangely, detectives pulled up the records of both men 24 hours before the only eyewitness came forward. The witness, Brunilda Capella (now deceased), was a drug addict and prostitute who claimed she saw the two men drag Negron into a car on the night the teenager went missing.
The car the witness described, a brown Buick Skylark, was seized by the police department several days after Negron’s body was found. Inside the car was a headband which prosecutors claimed belonged to Negron. It was this evidence, along with the eyewitness testimony, that led to the conviction of Wagstaffe and Conner.
Since Wagstaffe’s conviction, more details have emerged in the case that have raised even more doubt about Wagstaffe’s involvement in Negron’s disappearance.
For years Wagstaffe advocated for DNA tests to be conducted on the evidence in the case. Only recently have those tests been conducted. The results of the tests indicated that none of the DNA found on Negron’s body belonged to Wagstaffe or Conner.
Moreover, at a 2010 hearing, a woman never before involved with the case came forward claiming that she was the owner of the seized Buick and that the headband belonged to her daughter. This new witness, Betty Bonner-Moody, claimed that she went to the detectives in 1992 and told them about her car and the headband. According to Bonnor-Moody, the Buick could not have been involved in the kidnapping because she was using her car on the night of Negron’s disappearance. If what the new witness said was true, there was no record of her interaction with the detectives in 1992 and the defense was never made aware of her testimony.
No DNA tests have been conducted on the headband because prosecutors say they can no longer find it.
Equally alarming is the fact that the 75th Precinct detective squad in charge of investigating the case has since come under scrutiny for its shoddy murder investigations during the time of Negron’s disappearance. In fact, several murder cases investigated by this squad have resulted in the wrongful conviction of individuals who have since been released.
Even the police chief at the time of Negron’s death, Michael Race, admitted that, due to escalating drug violence at the time of Negron’s kidnapping and murder, investigators did not have adequate time nor the resources to conduct a proper investigation.
Despite the sloppy investigation, flimsy evidence, uncorroborated testimony, and lack of DNA tying Wagstaffe to Negron’s disappearance and subsequent death, prosecutors stand firm in the belief that Wagstaffe is guilty. Much like other cases in which individuals have been wrongfully convicted, there is too much doubt in this case.
Wagstaffe, whose maximum sentence is 25 years, continues to claim innocence and fight for his release.
For more coverage on the Wagstaffe case, check out the following articles published by the New York Times: