The Wrongful Prosecution of David Black

David Black has now spent a full quarter century in federal prison for a crime he did not commit. Friends of Justice has devoted six well-researched and tightly argued columns to this case (see below), but let’s begin with the basic facts of the case:

On a cool Sunday afternoon in February of 1997, an elderly Chinese-American woman was gunned down on the 400 block of K Street in Washington DC.  Alice Chow lived in the Museum Square One apartment building, a low-income complex at 401 K Street that, at the time, housed a population that was 75% Chinese American and 25% African American.  Alice Chow’s tragic death shocked the community and the police, who had one of the lowest homicide closure rates in the nation, were under intense pressure to find the killer.

Unable to believe that anyone would intentionally murder a highly respected model citizen in broad daylight, the police immediately assumed that she was felled by a stray bullet.  Several street witnesses were startled by the sound of gunfire, but no one saw the shooter.  As you would expect, several people ran for cover in the seconds following the shooting.  On the day of the crime, the police had already decided that one of those runners was fleeing the gunman. 

Two witnesses were eventually found.  One man was on the run from the police, and was in the Museum Square apartment building illegally.  He claimed to have witnessed the shooting from a hallway window and insisted that his girlfriend had witnessed the same event.  For weeks, she denied it.  But after a brutal two-day interrogation, she finally agreed to cooperate.  Then, on the verge of trial, she recanted her testimony. 

The male witness admitted on the witness stand that he hadn’t witnessed the shooting, but, threatened with a perjury indictment, he returned to his original story.

The person David was allegedly shooting at told a grand jury that he wasn’t on K Street on the day of the incident and that David Black has never fired a weapon at him. Incredibly, this witness was not called to testify at trial.

Grand jury testimony suggests that David Black became part of the story by accident. The male witness claimed that the shooter was driving a blue car. When the police asked a person from the neighborhood if he knew anyone who drove a blue car, he mentioned a person who went by the street name “Black”. David had no idea how he came to be implicated in the killing of Alice Chow since, at the time of the tragic incident, he was attending his sister’s birthday party.

This quick summary raises more questions than it answers. Fortunately, Friends of Justice has thoroughly reviewed this case and has published a series of blog posts which you can find below.

The David Black Story: An Introduction

Part One: Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Part Two: A Fatal Assumption

Part Three: When the Police tell Witnesses what They Saw

Part Four: Gaslighting, How Interrogators Wield the Weapons of Psychological Warfare

Part Five: The Jurors’ Dilemma: Why the Jury Voted to Convict an Innocent Man