For previous coverage, see “Did the Brooklyn DA’s Office Get Ronnie Wright’s Case Really Wrong?”
There is no doubt that innocent bystander Andrell Napper was murdered in a botched gang retaliation hit in Bed-Stuy in 2006. As The Indypendent previously reported, Ronnie Wright’s 2007 conviction for Napper’s murder relied on the testimony of just one witness.
In 2019, a federal jury convicted G’z Up gang leader Nicholas Washington of ordering the shooting that killed Napper. Wright was neither a member of G’z Up nor identified in the federal trial as one of the two gunmen.
In fact, during Wright’s October 2007 trial, there was no mention of any gang involvement at all. As one courthouse veteran notes, “So this is the only trial in Brooklyn in which they didn’t link the defendant to a gang?”
When Wright’s current 440 hearing (in which Judge Sharen Hudson will decide whether to overturn the initial conviction) began in the middle of March, the Brooklyn DA’s team focused on the newfound evidence that sparked the hearing, asserting that it did not prove Wright’s innocence. Wright’s trial counsel did not receive conflicting statements given after the murder to the NYPD and FBI by Demetrius Morris regarding Wright’s role. Morris later confessed to shooting Napper and testified against Washington in the 2019 federal trial.
Wright’s attorney Dennis Kelly sought to expand the scope of the current inquiry beyond just the Morris statements. Kelly told the court that the trial prosecutor, ADA Howard Jackson, sought to “cover up an ongoing investigation” of G’z Up by the NYPD and FBI — and that the DA’s current team is now continuing that effort.
At the time of Napper’s murder, a joint task force between the NYPD and the FBI had been investigating gang activity and the drug trade in Bed-Stuy. The operation began in early 2006, and G’z Up was on their radar because of another murder in 2005.
“The joint task forces play all kinds of games, pinning stuff on small fish while they go after bigger ones,” says Brooklyn exoneree Derrick Hamilton, who now advocates for others he views as wrongfully convicted.
In Hamilton’s view, there are “likely dozens” of faulty convictions in New York State that result from the handiwork of the joint task forces. He cites the cases of Danny Rincon in Manhattan and Manny Lugo in the Bronx as prime examples. Although Hamilton is the adopted father of Andrell Napper, he believes that Wright’s conviction should be overturned.
After the August 2006 murder of Napper, Demetrius Morris went to Pennsylvania, where he was arrested on drug charges. In October, an NYPD detective took a hand-written statement from Morris in which he claimed Wright had pointed out who the target was but that two other people were the gunmen. But according to a contemporaneous report from FBI Special Agent Anthony Grubisic, Morris stated there were three shooters — and Wright was one of them.
In the 2007 trial, Assistant DA Jackson told the jury that Wright pulled the trigger. In his sentencing memo, Jackson then implausibly told the judge that Wright was the “mastermind” of the operation. Even though the same witness who identified Wright also fingered Morris, the latter never testified.
On the stand in the 2019 federal trial, Morris embellished his initial statement, telling the jury that Wright pointed out the intended target, then yelled “Go, go, go!” Why the two G’z Up shooters would take orders from a non-gang member is not clear.
As explained in the March court appearance, Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez last year informed John O’Hara, another member of Wright’s team, that he had reviewed the case. According to O’Hara, Gonzalez stated that the office’s current position is that “We don’t believe that Wright is the shooter but we believe he is guilty.” This is because Wright was charged with “acting in concert,” meaning that if Wright participated in a meaningful way, he can be culpable.
During that same court date, ADA Jackson acknowledged that while he knew Morris had been named as a shooter at the time of the trial, he did not interview him regarding Wright’s role. And he said that he had no recollection of the fully documented statements from an eyewitness who said that Wright was not at the scene. In pursuing its shaky case against Wright, the DA’s office kept the joint task force investigation of G’z Up out of the spotlight.
Wright’s team will continue its attempt to pry the lid off his case when the hearing resumes this Wednesday.
*An earlier version stated that the jury reached its verdict in February 2008. That’s when the judge sentenced Wright.
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