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Blind spots (continued)

Three key witnesses testified against Sprinkle during his trial. Two had been threatened on tape with accomplice charges, and the other admitted in court that a detective on the case testified in his behalf at a sentencing hearing for his prior crimes — a fact that even the prosecutor did not know until the trial began, says David Procopio, spokesperson for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office. (All questions for the police were referred to Procopio by Boston Police Department spokeswoman Mariellen Burns; the individual prosecutors in each also referred questions to Procopio.)

The victim’s wife, Rosa Amporo-Taylor, testified against Sprinkle. She was in Sprinkle’s house at the time of the murder, and had previously had an affair with Sprinkle’s cousin Clarence Williams. According to prosecutors, Williams asked Sprinkle to kill Taylor, who was hanging out on a nearby street corner, and Sprinkle, who was playing video games with his friends and little brother, walked to the corner, put six bullets into Taylor, and calmly returned to his game. (Note: Williams was charged as an accessory before the fact and tried simultaneously with Sprinkle. He was found guilty and sentenced to life without parole.)

Initially, Amporo-Taylor insisted to detectives that Sprinkle was in the house with her when she heard the gunshots — she recalled Sprinkle going outside and asking a girl in the courtyard what had happened. She repeated this story no less than 13 times in at least three separate interviews with detectives James Wyse, John Martell, and Michael Primm, according to transcripts of those interrogations. But the detectives put pressure on her to implicate Sprinkle. "You keep sticking with this story and what you’re telling us here right now, and you’re going to be putting both of your feet in Framingham State Prison for a long time," one of the detectives said, according to a transcript that doesn’t indicate which of the detectives was speaking.

Finally, just before Amporo-Taylor testified for the grand jury, the detectives threatened her with felony perjury, and she changed her story to implicate Sprinkle. At the grand jury and again at Sprinkle’s trial, Amporo-Taylor testified that she saw Sprinkle tuck something into his waistband and go out; then, later, Sprinkle claimed to hear the gunshots, but she did not. No charges were ever brought against Amporo-Taylor.

The detectives also leaned hard on another key witness. Spencer Redding, a friend of Williams’s, was parked in his car down the street when he heard the shots and looked up, catching a brief glimpse of two men at the scene. Redding, who called 911, initially told police that he couldn’t see much from his car, with his poor eyesight. He just saw "shadows," he said then — and he thought the men were white.

The detectives later threatened to charge him as an accessory to the murder if he didn’t identify Sprinkle as one of the two men. "The heat was on in that room" when the detectives questioned him, Redding said under cross-examination. He testified at the trial that one of the killers "could have been" Sprinkle.

Another trial witness, Angel Suazo, first came to the attention of detectives six months after the Taylor shooting; by then, the grand jury had already indicted Sprinkle in March 2000. In late May, Suazo was arrested for probation violations, and his probation officer recommended an 18-month sentence. Suazo, who knew Williams and was an acquaintance of Sprinkle’s, asked Martell and Primm for help in exchange for information about Sprinkle. "Their exact words were, we’ll see what we can do depending on what you can tell us," Suazo testified under cross-examination at Sprinkle’s trial. (It also came up at trial that in an attempt to avoid the 18-month sentence for probation violations, Suazo had originally claimed during a probation hearing that he had been in a Dade County correctional institute since September. When that assertion was easily disproved, he then claimed that he had undergone ankle surgery in October and spent months immobilized in rehabilitation; he even brought in forged hospital documents to back up the claim. Only after these attempts failed, Suazo admitted under cross-examination, did he approach Martell and Primm with his story about Sprinkle.) On June 27, Martell testified in Suazo’s behalf at his final surrender hearing, where a judge determined Suazo’s sentencing. (He got the 18 months despite the detective’s testimony.) At Sprinkle’s trial, Suazo testified that he saw Sprinkle on the sidewalk that afternoon just before the shooting, and that Sprinkle showed him the gun he was carrying in his waistband.

Another eyewitness, who had been waiting for a bus directly across the street from the shooting, refused to change his claim that the killers were light-skinned Hispanics. Attorney Parker asked Modesto Gonzalez on cross-examination: "They told you you were wrong about the individual being Hispanic. He was black. Isn’t that what the police told you?" Gonzalez replied: "Yes."

Other witnesses supported Amporo-Taylor’s original story, that Sprinkle was in his house when the shots were fired, and that he came out and asked a girl in the courtyard — Lillian Robinson, who was then 13 years old — what had happened. Prosecutor Pat Hagan argued in court that those witnesses were unreliable, because they were motivated to protect their friend and neighbor.

They stick by their story today. "He was like a big brother," says Robinson, now 18, of Sprinkle. "He looked out for me. But I had no reason to lie."

Marion Jones, an elderly woman who lived across the street from Sprinkle, testified that she was on the phone with Sprinkle when she and others heard the gunshots. On a recent evening, sitting on a plastic chair in her living room, she repeated her story. As she spoke, she could see the front door of Sprinkle’s former home through her front door, which she keeps open in nice weather. Why, she asks, would she lie to keep a cold-blooded killer living directly across the courtyard? "I just knew him as a kid around here," Jones says. "He wasn’t a trouble kid."

Lavell Fulks

Pled guilty to manslaughter in 2002; sentenced to eight years.

On March 26, 2000, at roughly 12:40 a.m., a crowd of people were hanging out on Warren Street near Grove Hall, in front of the 24 Seven convenience store, a popular late-night hangout. Someone shot into the crowd, killing 20-year-old Shanna Miller, who was four months pregnant. For two months, detectives made little progress on the case; they suspected that the shooting stemmed from a fight earlier in the evening involving a man on the street whom they believed to be the intended victim. Lavell Fulks’s name never came up — until four men gave statements against Fulks.

At the time of his arrest, Fulks was a 17-year-old high-school student. He was also allegedly mixed up with gang members in the Grove Hall area, according to police reports on the case. He had two juvenile arrests — one for assault and battery, one for trespassing — but no convictions, according to a police report filed with the case docket at the McCormack Courthouse. He lived with his mother, who kept a close eye on him. (When Fulks was picked up, he gave his age as 16, hoping to be charged as a minor. However, his mother later admonished him and told the police his correct birth date.)

The prosecutor, Josh Wall, concedes that there was no physical evidence linking Fulks to the crime, according to Procopio. Fulks’s attorney, James Rudser, of Winthrop, says that Fulks insists he is innocent. However, he had no solid alibi. Wall offered a plea bargain of eight years; Fulks had already served almost three years awaiting trial. Facing the possibility of a life sentence versus another five years in prison, Fulks took the deal, ensuring his freedom at age 25.

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Issue Date: April 23 - 29, 2004
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