Frank Report is investigating the conviction of Lawrence Paine, currently imprisoned in Wisconsin for the murders of Janari Saddler and Aaron Harrington, who were shot and killed on April 10, 2004.
Despite no physical evidence linking Paine to the crime, he was convicted based on two witnesses, Eric Howard and George Donald.
Paine’s alibi revolved around Anthony “Skin” Blackman, whom he claimed was with him on the night of the murders at Club Paradise, a strip club.
Police alleged they could not find Blackman, and the surveillance footage of Club Paradise police produced did not confirm Paine’s presence.
Paine was found guilty in 2005 and sentenced to two life terms.
Milwaukee Double Homicide that Led to Paine’s Nightmare
On Saturday, April 10, 2004, at around 4:19 am, two 911 calls reported a shooting at a duplex in Milwaukee. The police found Saddler and Harrington shot dead inside. There were no signs of forced entry, and the crime scene was extensively photographed and examined. Nine DNA samples were found at the murder scene, identifying several men, including Eric D Howard and Ronald Q Terry.
Police did not find Paine’s DNA at the scene. Police did not recover the murder gun but recovered casings and a bullet.
Based on the two men who identified Paine, he became the only suspect.
Upon learning he was a suspect, Paine turned himself in on May 9, 2004.
Six months later, in a separate incident, Milwaukee police arrested Ronald Q. Terry. His gun matched the type used in the double homicide. Terry’s DNA was also at the crime scene.
Police did not investigate this potential lead.
As the trial of Paine approached, Detective Gilberto Hernandez served a subpoena to Sherika Ray, a neighbor who claimed to have heard the murders from her apartment below.
Ray told Hernandez that Terry, Donald, and two other men, who were at the murder scene, intimidated her after Terry’s arrest, insinuating harm if she cooperated with the police.
Hernandez failed to investigate Ray’s claims or charge those who intimidated her. The State did not call Ray to testify.
During Paine’s first trial, the jury couldn’t reach a verdict, resulting in a mistrial. In the second trial, the State relied solely on Donald and Howard’s testimony, omitting Donald’s intimidation of Ray.
The State’s gun expert testified about the characteristics of the murder weapon, despite not examining an actual gun.
‘Skin’ Blackman’s absence from testifying in the trial led the prosecution to imply he was a fictional character.
Paine testified that he and Blackman entered the club, engaged with a pizza delivery man, and later left and returned to the club.
Detective Catherine Hein testified there was no surveillance video to corroborate Paine’s alibi.
The Real Tape
The original, unedited by police videotape recovered from Club Paradise in 2004, surfaced after 18 years due to a routine discovery request. Paine had lost certain discovery evidence and requested the Milwaukee Police replace the surveillance tape. The detectives who had investigated the case and edited the tape to remove Paine had left the force. The case was so old that the current custodians of the evidence at the Milwaukee police did not know they were only to send the doctored tape, and accidentally blundered and sent Paine the unedited original tape recovered from Club Paradise in 2004.
While the edited tape showed neither Paine nor ‘Skin’ Blackman, the unedited one shows Paine and Blackman driving into the parking lot, entering the club, engaging with a pizza delivery man, stopping by an area where they sold cigars, and then hours later leaving the club and getting into their car. About 10 minutes later, Paine drives back to the club. He got out of the car alone, entered the club, went inside, and talked to a woman at the bar for several minutes, then left, went back into his car, and drove away.
The State also suppressed ballistics testing results which would have shown that Terry’s gun was likely the murder gun.
To top off the hat trick, the State manipulated hotel records to challenge Paine’s alibi – discrediting his claim that he left the Club and drove over five hours to see his son and stayed at a hotel, arriving at a time that precluded him from being at the murder scene.
Paine’s post-conviction investigation revealed the State falsely presented hotel records through a witness with no knowledge of the night in question or the hotel’s policies at the time of Paine’s stay.
Frank Report has published three stories about Lawrence Paine.
An Interview With Paine
My interview was limited by the prison time constraints of 15-minute calls.
The whole case that convicted you was the testimony of two witnesses – George Donald and Eric Howard – who were at the scene.
The DA allowed their false testimony and eliminated anything or anyone who might have contradicted it. I was in custody the whole time. I learned about a lot of the evidence years later.
One of the most important witnesses that would have contradicted Howard and Donald was Sherika Ray. She lived downstairs from where the two men were slain. According to documents that were later revealed but suppressed at the trial, Ray told Homicide Detective Gilberto Hernandez that about 10- 12 people fled the apartment after the gunshots, including at least one woman. Did anybody bring it up in the trial that there were more than just two witnesses?
The State didn’t go into anything contradicting what Howard and Donald testified. The information about more people being there was not revealed until after I was convicted. I wasn’t there. I had no way of knowing a group of people fled. The State of Wisconsin did not call Sherika Ray.
Did the prosecutor give the jury the impression that the only people at the murder scene were you, Donald, Howard, and the two slain men?
That’s how they presented it. My sister contacted Sherika Ray. She told my sister that the police said to her that if she came to court to testify, they wouldn’t be able to protect her.
The State didn’t want her to take the stand. Ray told Detective Hernandez that Ronald Terry and George Donald threatened her life.
The prosecution maintained you made up the character ‘Skin’ Blackman. Before you turned yourself in, you were staying with a woman, Zenobia Davis, who you claimed overheard you speaking to Blackman.
She told the police about a phone call I had with Skin before I turned myself in. She heard me on a phone call when I learned I was a suspect, and I said to him, I was thinking aloud at the time, and I said, “But I was at the club with you, wasnt I?” The police tried to spin it and said I was building a false alibi.
They said, “Mr. Paine was on the phone trying to get Blackman to say that he was with him.”
But the video footage shows I was with him. That conversation with Skin was just me trying to remember something that happened 30 days before.
I had no reason to remember everything or anything that night. Nobody is doing that. Nobody’s living a life remembering what they did every single day, not day to day. I’m on the phone with Skin, and I’m like, “wasn’t I there with you that night?”
The State took it as an opportunity to take something innocent and make it sinister when obviously, it wasn’t. But they had the video and suppressed it. The entire time they knew that I was telling the truth. They had this video the whole time.
Do you think the motive for the murder of the two men was robbery?
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, absolutely. And it is not something where you have to even take my word for it. You saw the [suppressed police] report from the woman downstairs. Sherika Ray said she heard one of the men say, “so this is robbery.” Robbery is more plausible than anything else.
Howard initially told police that you killed the two men because Harrington insulted you, because you parked a stolen station wagon at the back of his house. Did you have a stolen car? That station wagon, was that stolen?
Was any evidence presented at trial that established you owned that car and it wasn’t stolen?
No, there was never anything about a stolen car at the trial. The stolen car argument changed because a witness at the first trial testified there was no station wagon behind the house.
At the second trial, the witness didn’t testify. His name was Derek Reed. He testified at the first trial that he dropped off Harrington.
Did Derek Reed say you were there at the house that day?
No, sir. He said he dropped off Harrington, and there was no car parked behind that house.
Reed was in the first trial but not the second trial?
He didn’t testify at the second trial. He was somehow not available. They did not call the downstairs neighbors. They had people who described the vehicles parked in front and behind the house. My vehicle was not in anyone’s description.
Do you know where Ronald Q. Terry, Eric Howard or George Donald are today?
No, I don’t know where none of those guys are.