National Registry of Exonerations


Gary Gathers and Keith Miller
Washinton, DC
April 20, 2015


Gary Gathers, Keith Mitchell and their legal team.
In August 8, 1993, 23-year-old Wayne Ballard pulled up to a stop at the intersection of 2nd Street and Massachusetts Avenue N.W. Another car pulled up to the driver’s side of Ballard’s car and a gunman fired several shots into Ballard’s car. Ballard was fatally shot in the head.

Almost immediately, police suspected that 17-year-old Gary Gathers was involved in the shooting. Ballard had told police that he saw Gathers’ brother, Gregory, fatally shoot Carlton Gillis on June 14, 1993, and police believed that Gathers’ was retaliating. At the time Ballard was shot, Gregory Gathers was awaiting trial on a charge of first-degree murder.

In September 1993, police arrested Gary Gathers and 18-year-old Keith Mitchell on charges of first-degree murder and illegal use of a weapon after 17-year-old Eric Lindsay, who was riding in the car with Ballard, identified Gathers as the gunman and Mitchell as the driver.

In May 1994, Gathers and Mitchell went to trial in District of Columbia Superior Court. Lindsay told the jury that he was in Ballard’s car when he heard several shots and looked over at the gunman for about eight seconds before ducking and covering his face. Lindsay testified that after the shots were fired, he sat back up and got a side view of Mitchell in the driver’s seat as the car sped off. He admitted that on the night of the shooting, he told police that he could not identify anyone in the other car, but said that he did not give police any names because he was scared.

Hattie Barber, who lived in Gathers’ neighborhood, testified that one evening soon after Ballard was killed, she was on the street and overheard Gathers tell a group of people that he “shot Wayne; they killed Wayne.” She acknowledged that she was 20 to 25 feet away and that he was facing away from her. She also admitted that she told the grand jury that what she heard Gathers say was “not actually Wayne, but I know who he said. They (said) it faint, so you won’t understand, but it meant Wayne when he said it.” Barber also conceded that she was a heroin user and that she used it on the night she said she heard the comment.

Detective Anthony Brigidini testified that after Gathers was arrested and brought to the police station, he asked what he was being charged with “or who he was supposed to have killed.” Brigidini told the jury that he explained to Gathers “first-degree murder while armed in the death of Wayne Ballard.” In response, Gathers asked if there were any witnesses and Brigidini testified that he replied sarcastically, “Why, are you going to kill them, too?”

Brigidini testified that Gathers then said, “Did you find the gun I used to kill Wayne with?”

Detective Ray Crawford testified that at the preliminary hearing for Gathers’ brother, Gregory, Ballard had been identified publicly by name as the sole witness against Gregory Gathers. The prosecution argued to the jury that Ballard was killed to prevent him from testifying against Gregory Gathers and that the disclosure of Ballard’s identity was “the most crucial piece of evidence” showing that Ballard was killed by Gary Gathers.

On May 10, 1994, the jury convicted Gary Gathers and Keith Mitchell of first-degree murder and illegal use of a firearm. They were each sentenced to 36 years to life in prison. An appeal of their convictions was denied.

In 2008, after Gathers asked the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project for help, he was appointed a lawyer and a hearing was held on a post-conviction motion for a new trial. At the hearing, two witnesses testified that Gathers spent the evening at a basketball clinic and at a boxing gym.

In addition, three other witnesses testified that Kevin Jones and Darnell Smith, drug dealers who had feuded with Gathers’ uncle, Ronald Gathers, had admitted that Smith killed Ballard.

In 2009, the motion for a new trial was denied. In 2010, a motion to reopen the hearing was granted and at the suggestion of the trial court, Mitchell joined in the motion for new trial.

In the ensuing hearing, held in 2011, Lindsay recanted his identification of Gathers and Mitchell and said he had falsely implicated them because he was angry about the murders of Carlton Gillis and Ballard. He said he identified Gathers because of Ballard’s cooperation against Gregory Gathers and he identified Mitchell because he knew Mitchell frequently hung around with Gary Gathers.

“I was wrong. I know I was wrong,” Lindsay said. “I’ve lived with it for 17-18 years.”

Lindsay’s sister, Lueen Lindsay, testified at the hearing that about a week after Ballard was killed, she asked Lindsay what happened. She said he told her that he was asleep when the shooting started, that he ducked down and did not see who fired the shots or was driving the car.

A line-of-sight expert, Dr. William Bruchey, testified that Lindsay’s view of the driver of the car would have been obscured by the door frame of the assailants’ car, the gunman or a combination of the two.

The defense also presented police reports that had never been revealed to the trial attorneys for Gathers and Mitchell. The reports described an ongoing feud between drug dealers who operated in the 900 and 1000 blocks of Wahler Place. The 900 Wahler crew, as police called them, included Ballard, Lindsay and as well as Darnell Smith and Kevin Jones. The feud began when Gary Gathers’ uncle, Ronald Gathers, who was associated with the 1000 Wahler crew, robbed members of the 900 Wahler crew. In retaliation, Ronald Gathers was fatally shot in September 1992. Smith was suspected as the gunman, according to the reports.

In April 1993, Gregory Gathers was shot in the head, but survived. The police reports said police suspected Smith was responsible and that Ballard drove the getaway car. Witnesses told police that Smith suspected that Ballard was a “snitch” who had told police that Smith was involved in the shooting of Ronald and Gregory Gathers. As a result, according to the reports, Smith was suspected of Ballard’s murder.

The defense also presented—for the first time—a transcript from the preliminary hearing in 1993 for Gregory Gathers. The transcript showed that Ballard was not identified by name—although the detective testified that he was and the prosecution argued to the jury that the reason Ballard was killed by Gary Gathers was because he had learned during the preliminary hearing that Ballard was a witness against Gregory Gathers.

In 2011, the motion for a new trial was denied. In October 2014, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals reversed the ruling and ordered a new trial for Gary Gathers and Mitchell. The court held that the detective had testified falsely about whether Ballard’s name had been disclosed and that the prosecution had improperly argued that that was the motive for Ballard’s murder.

The appeals court rejected the prosecution’s argument that the discovery of the false testimony came too late for Gathers and Mitchell to file a motion for new trial.

“It is markedly disquieting to think that appellants should stand convicted on what is plainly false evidence highly prejudicial to the outcome where the government knew or should have known of the falsity, however belatedly this falsity may have come to the forefront,” the appeals court said.

On February 19, 2015, Gathers and Mitchell were released on electronic monitoring pending a retrial. On April 20, 2015, the prosecution dismissed the charges.

– Maurice Possley

Exonerations
Truth in Justice