Judge dismisses charges in 1985 New Milford murder
NEW MILFORD — A judge has dismissed all charges for two men who spent decades in prison for a murder they say they didn’t commit.
The Connecticut Superior Court’s ruling on Friday comes about a year after the state Supreme Court overtured the felony murder convictions of Ralph “Ricky” Birch and Shawn Henning in the Dec. 1, 1985, slaying of 65-year-old Everett Carr in his New Milford home.
Incorrect testimony from Henry Lee, the state’s top criminologist at the time and world famous forensic expert, was the main reason for last year’s decision for a new case.
In dismissing the charges, Judge Dan Shaban ruled there is no need for any further investigation of Birch and Henning, who wore T-shirts Friday reading “I didn’t do it,” and “I am innocent,” according to the Associated Press.
Birch and Henning, who were 18 and 17 at the time of the incident, were taken in as suspects. While they confessed to stealing a car and committing four other area burglaries, they steadfastly insisted they were not involved with the Carr murder.
Andrew O’Shea, Birch’s attorney, said that despite an extremely bloody crime scene, no DNA evidence was ever found linking the pair to Carr, who had been stabbed 27 times, had his throat cut and suffered seven blows to the head. Despite being identified as suspects shortly after the crime, no blood was found on Birch or Henning’s clothes or in their car.
During their trials, prosecutors presented evidence from forensic expert Henry Lee, who would later gain fame as a witness in the O.J. Simpson murder case, that it was possible for the assailants to avoid getting much blood on them.
The biggest piece of evidence that came under fire in the new hearings were towels hanging in the bathroom that Lee said were tested and shown to contain blood. However, that ended up being incorrect.
“The state proffered two theories, one of which the respondent now concedes was predicated on Lee’s incorrect testimony,” the Supreme Court ruled last year. “If the jury had known that Lee’s testimony about finding blood on the bathroom towel was incorrect, that knowledge might well have caused it to question the reliability of his other testimony. If that had occurred, the state’s entire case against the petitioner could very well have collapsed.”
After the state Supreme Court ruling for new trials, Lee said the testimony was not false.
Birch served more than 30 years of a 55-year sentence for felony murder. Henning was granted probation in 2018 under new rules for teenage offenders.
“I feel good, its about time,” Birch said when he was released last year. “It’s been a long time coming. It seems like it took a lot longer than it should. But I’ve got a lot of good people on my side, in my corner, and they fought for me.”
Henning’s attorneys applauded the decision for the new case last year, saying the court affirmed the points they made.
“Shawn Henning was wrongly imprisoned for nearly 30 years on the false and misleading testimony of Henry Lee,” one of Henning’s attorneys, Craig Raabe, had said . “It has taken 30 years to correct this injustice and we are very pleased with the court’s thoughtful decision.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.