Milwaukee, Wisconsin – The case of Lawrence Paine, currently serving two life sentences for the murders of Janari Saddler and Aaron Harrington in 2004, has been brought to the forefront by The Frank Report’s investigation.
It figured in the dismissal of murder charges against Larnell Washington, accused of a 1990 murder.
Behind Closed Doors:
FR’s investigation uncovered evidence of professional misconduct by retired Milwaukee Police Detectives Gilberto Hernandez and Catherine Hein Spano. The two were partners on the force for nearly two decades.
The alleged misconduct attributed comprises:
- Tampering with or fabricating evidence.
- Concealing exonerating evidence.
- Claiming defendants confessed to crimes during unrecorded interrogations, despite the defendants refuting these claims.
- Coercing false testimonies from jailhouse witnesses to incriminate others in unrecorded interrogations.
- Orchestrating efforts to secure convictions, regardless of evidence pointing to a different perpetrator.
- Providing false testimony in court.
The Double Homicide
In 2004, Paine was arrested based on evidence provided by two witnesses, who said Paine murdered Saddler and Harrington over a minor dispute about where a car should be parked when visiting the home.
None of the 29 items subjected to DNA testing matched Paine’s DNA. However, the DNA of both accusers was found at the scene.
Paine’s defense centered around his alibi: he was at Club Paradise, a strip club, with Anthony Mendez ‘Skin’ Blackman the night of the murders.
Detectives Hernandez and Spano claimed they couldn’t locate Blackman, and that the club’s surveillance didn’t capture Paine’s presence. They charged Paine with the murders.
Approximately six months after the double murder incident, as Paine awaited trial, Milwaukee police arrested Ronald Q. Terry in an unrelated drug matter. The firearm found in his possession was a match to the weapon used in the double homicide.
Furthermore, Terry’s DNA was discovered at the crime scene, linking him to this heinous act.
Hernandez and Spano chose not to investigate Terry.
Shortly before Paine’s trial, Sherika Ray, a neighbor, told Detective Hernandez that she heard one of the slain men’s desperate pleas from her apartment below. This revelation unveiled that the motive behind the double homicide was robbery, rather than a dispute over parking.
Ray provided evidence linking Terry, George Donald, Eric Howard, and another member of their gang, L.Z. Jolly, to the crime, as she witnessed them fleeing the scene on the night of the murders.
Ray further revealed Terry, Donald, and Jolly had menacingly warned her against testifying regarding their involvement in the killings.
Hernandez decided against investigating this information. The state did not call Ray to testify.
The prosecution relied solely on the testimonies of Donald and Howard, with no mention of Ray’s claims or Terry’s involvement.
During the trial, Detective Spano testified there was no evidence to corroborate Paine’s alibi that he was at Club Paradise. The prosecution inferred Blackman was a made-up character.
Paine was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole in 2005.
The latest in a series of appeals by Paine’s defense team brings to light surveillance footage from Club Paradise. Astonishingly, this footage, which has been in police custody for nearly two decades, was never made available to Paine or his trial defense.
The original, unedited 2004 Club Paradise videotape, uncovered 18 years later, shows Paine and Blackman at the club on the night in question.
A System of Doubt
Following the Paine case, The Frank Report uncovering other dubious cases where Detectives Hernandez and Spano played a role.
William Avery: Avery was accused of Maryette Griffin’s 1998 murder. Detective Hernandez claimed Avery confessed in an unrecorded interview. Avery denied it. The jury believed Hernandez.
DNA evidence in 2010 cleared Avery, linking the crime to Walter Ellis, a known serial killer. After several years of legal battles, a jury awarded Avery almost $2 million in damages. He died a few months afterward.
Michael Miller: Hernandez played a pivotal role in Miller’s 2004 conviction, based on an unrecorded and potentially false confession. Miller, sentenced for a 2003 homicide, has now called for post-conviction relief, citing concerns about Hernandez’s credibility.
Larnell Washington: Washington was accused of the 1990 murder of Annette Love – some 33 years later. While DNA found in 2009 pointed to Washington and others, the age of the case, questionable DNA reliability, and Detectives Hernandez and Spano’s histories of alleged misconduct raised concerns about the viability of the prosecution. Much like he did in other cases where it was alleged he coerced false testimony, Hernandez chose not to record 22 of the 25 witnesses he interviewed.
After reviewing the Paine case, as revealed by the Frank Report, and others cited above, the prosecution dropped the case against Washington. He said he plans to sue Milwaukee.
Chante Ott was convicted for the 1995 rape-murder of Jessica Payne. Detectives Spano and Hernandez were involved in the case. Ott served 13 years in prison before DNA evidence proved he didn’t commit the crime. There were allegations that Milwaukee detectives coerced a man named Sammy Hadaway into providing false testimony implicating Ott in the rape-murder case. This, along with the new DNA evidence, led to Ott’s exoneration. Ott filed a lawsuit against the City of Milwaukee, and settled for $6.5 million for 13 years of his life.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin continues to fight the release of Lawrence Paine, now in his 19th years of prison, despite overwhelming evidence of his innocence. Paine’s motion for a new trial awaits a decision by Judge Jeffrey Wagner.