James J. Watson’s son, Don Juan Moses, was just a year old when his father was sent to prison over claims he was responsible for the 1979 killing of 28-year-old Boston cab driver Jeffrey Boyajian.
The Boston native, who has repeated he never committed the crime, was able to celebrate his innocence with his son this week, the man’s lawyers said in a statement. Watson served 41 years in the case.
A Suffolk County Superior Court judge vacated Watson’s 1984 conviction earlier this month, and prosecutors opted to not pursue charges against him again this week.
“All that matters to me is I get to comfort my dad now and do things with my dad now,” Moses said Tuesday, according to the statement from attorneys Barbara Munro and Madeline Blanchette.
Although Watson was serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole, he was released from MCI-Norfolk prison in April at age 61 while his motion for a new trial was being considered.
In his motion, Watson put forward “compelling facts about his wrongful conviction,” Munro and Blanchette said.
Those facts included “prosecutorial and police misconduct, incentivized and coerced witnesses, hypnosis-induced misidentifications, ineffective assistance of counsel and the absence of his DNA on any items connected with the murder,” the attorneys wrote.
Munro and Blanchette also pointed out the urgency needed in Watson’s release due to his medical conditions and age, factors that put him at risk of developing severe illness or even death due to coronavirus.
On Tuesday, Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins’s office dismissed all charges against Watson, noting that after looking at the evidence and after the prosecutor’s Integrity Review Bureau’s “extensive investigation,” the state concluded “the interests of justice would not be served by the prosecution of this case.”
Frederick Clay, Watson’s co-defendant, was already exonerated 3 years ago after serving 38 years behind bars for the killing of Boyajian, a crime he argued for decades he did not commit.
The man’s case was vacated 3 years ago after former Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley’s office conducted another investigation into the 1979 murder that “raised significant doubt as to the fairness of his trial,” the prosecutor said.
In Clay’s 1981 trial, hypnosis had been used on witnesses, a practice deemed unreliable in modern courts, Conley pointed out at the time.
The attorneys representing Watson argued the use of hypnosis was used to obtain unreliable identification and evidence against him too.
“The greatest injustice is to take an innocent man away from his son and family,” Munro said about Watson. “This could have been prevented here if the then-prosecutor had not withheld from the defense the fact that the eyewitnesses were hypnotized prior to their identifications of Mr. Watson, rendering them unreliable.”
Along with the unreliable eyewitness evidence, the attorney claimed other witnesses were given incentives to testify against Watson, including promises of new apartments in public housing and threats their children would be taken away.
“It is impossible to undo the intergenerational trauma that this wrongful conviction inflicted on Mr. Watson and his family, but his exoneration now means that there is still opportunity for healing,” Blanchette said.
Watson’s case was supported by the New England Innocence Project, which funded an investigation into the man’s wrongful conviction, and Nardizzi & Associates Inc., which looked into the 41-year-old Roslindale killing.
Kristin Dame, director of private social work services at the Committee for Public Counsel Services, provided reentry support services to Watson as well, according to the Boston native’s attorneys.
Dr. Mary Bassett of The Sentencing Project and Katharine Naples-Mitchell of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School also filed an amicus brief in support of Watson’s request to be released in April.