QUEENS (PIX11) — A man was exonerated inside a Queens courtroom Thursday after eight years in prison in connection with the 2013 murder of an honors student.
Shamel Capers had been sentenced to 15 years in prison in connection with the death of 14-year-old D’aja Robinson. The teen was riding a Q6 bus home from a Sweet 16 party when she was shot and killed.
Capers was one of two men convicted in Robinson’s death, but in court Thursday, prosecutors said they uncovered new evidence that proved the other man convicted in the case Kevin McClinton, was the sole shooter.
The Queens District Attorney’s office also said the one eyewitness to testify against Capers, Lael Jappa, came forward to say he was lying in an effort to get a lower sentence in his own case. He told his mom in 2014 that information he gave police and prosecutors about Capers was false, recorded phone conversations from jail revealed.
“For there to be justice in the criminal justice system, and public faith in its outcomes, it is incumbent upon us as prosecutors to follow the facts to wherever they lead,” Queens DA Melinda Katz said. “Presented with credible new evidence that undermined the integrity of the convictions against these men, we could not let miscarriages of justice stand. In the case of the murder of D’aja Robinson, the solely culpable individual is serving a sentence of 25 years to life in prison.”
Capers, who was just 15 at the time of the shooting, left the courtroom a free man.
“I just want to get back to my family, that’s all,” he said.
Shadia Sands, the teen’s mother, said she’s struggling to understand how Capers was exonerated.
“I’m numb,” she told PIX11 News. “I can’t believe that that is happening.”
Robinson’s grandmother, Cheryl Sands, said the teen was her only granddaughter. She described the girl as her “heart and soul.”
“My thoughts today are with D’aja Robinson’s family,” District Attorney Katz said. “This motion might not be easy for them to accept, but they can take comfort in knowing that the solely culpable individual, Kevin McClinton, will be spending a very long time in jail, perhaps the rest of his life.”
McClinton will continue serving a sentence of 25 years to life in prison for Robinson’s murder.