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Court of Appeals affirms murder conviction; guilt ‘was overwhelming’

New York’s highest court has affirmed a murder conviction, ruling that it was appropriate for a judge to allow the prosecution to use a written statement against the defendant, with no opportunity for cross examination.

Defendant Darrell Hemphill was convicted of second-degree murder for fatally shooting a 2-year-old bystander.

Another man was initially prosecuted for the murder, but forensic testing showed Hemphill’s DNA on a blue sweater that eyewitness said the shooter was wearing. The sweater was found in a plastic bag hidden in a closet in Hemphill’s apartment.

That case ended when the defendant, Nicholas Morris, pleaded guilty to possession of a weapon and was released. His plea allocution was used by the prosecution at Hemphill’s trial.

A prosecution witness testified that Hemphill gave him the gun used in the shooting and the blue sweater and told him to “get rid” of it. Gilliam disposed of the firearms, but not the sweater.

Various eyewitnesses testified that the shooter had a tattoo on his arm like one that Hemphill has.

The eyewitness testimony and the physical evidence of Hemphill’s guilt “was overwhelming,” according to the New York State Court of Appeals decision.

“The sole question now before us is whether the admission at defendant Darrell Hemphill’s trial of third-party Nicholas Morris’s plea allocution, in violation of defendant’s Confrontation Clause rights under the Sixth Amendment, is harmless beyond a reasonable doubt,” the court wrote.

“We hold that the evidence of defendant’s guilt was overwhelming and that the error was harmless,” the court wrote.

“The plea allocution neither exculpated Morris nor inculpated defendant as the shooter, thus allowing defendant to argue to the jury that Morris was the perpetrator. Indeed, it merely supported a conclusion that Morris possessed a … revolver on the day in question,” the court wrote.

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