After four decades, 'Buffalo Five' members have convictions vacated
Two Buffalo men will never be tried again for a 1976 murder, after State Supreme Court Justice Christopher Burns threw out their convictions in a case which has entangled the local criminal justice system for decades.
John Walker and Darryl Boyd were with friends and family at Martin Luther King Jr. Park Wednesday, following their four-decade-old murder convictions being vacated. Now in their 60s and already having served their prison sentences, they have been fighting their conviction for years.
Boyd was overcome with emotions.
“We went through so much, went through so much, and I just can't thank everybody enough," Boyd said. "We lost a lot. We've done it a lot. But here we are.”
"Ever since they arrested us, we've been wiggling and struggling and doing everything we could to try to get up out from under this murder conviction. Well, today we finally got word that we are out from under it," Walker said. "Whereas the excitement might not be hitting me as loud as it is Darryl and everybody else, my mood is in what's next? Where do we go from here?"
The two men are the last of five Black teenagers allegedly involved in the 1976 murder-robbery of William Crawford at his Fillmore Avenue home in Buffalo.
One of the five testified against the other four, but Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said that man would not cooperate in another trial of Boyd and Walker. A fourth man, Darryn Gibson, is dead, while Floyd Martin was acquitted.
Although Burns' ruling said only a new trial could fully exonerate Boyd and Walker, Flynn said it has just been too long. Records are missing, people are dead and 45 years have passed.
"It says, clearly, in the second last sentence, 'This is not an exoneration of the defendants. That determination is left for a new trial.' So Judge Burns clearly said in black and white, here, this is not an exoneration of the defendants," Flynn said.
The key evidence in the attempt to clear the names of Boyd and Walker revolves around a crime scene photograph that reportedly shows just one pair of footprints following the victim. It has since disappeared.
Retired judge and former defense attorney James McLeod said he used it to get Martin acquitted and allegedly would have helped the others be cleared.
Instead, they went to prison for long terms. Boyd remains on parole to this day. He even reported to the parole office downtown Wednesday morning shortly before getting the call that his conviction was vacated.
The DA said Burns ruled that prosecutors exactly followed the rules in turning over the evidence to the defense lawyers.
"The testimony from Mr. Drury and Mr. Henry, who were the two lawyers 45 years ago, that any exculpatory material would have been turned over, including photographs. (Burns) agrees with them. When Drury and Henry said they turned over all the photographs, the judge has no reason to doubt that testimony," Flynn said.
Flynn said there is no proof that key photograph ever existed, prosecutors have no recollection it did and there are lies circulating in the community about the prosecution.
"It made the allegation that this office was responsible for hiding evidence and not turning over evidence, which is unequivocally false and a lie. I'm going to use the word 'lie,' specifically," Flynn said. "Anyone who's saying that, anyone who prints that, anyone who articulates that is a liar, is lying."
In the end, there will be no new trial, and Burns refused to exonerate Walker and Boyd.
Walker said he and Boyd would now like to help stop gun violence in Buffalo and do voter outreach in the Black community.
“If it happened to John Walker and Darryl Boyd, it can happen to you. So that's my legacy, that the next person don't get trapped up in the same things we got wrapped up in, that will be the legacy," he said.