The Crime and Investigation
Queens, NY, police reports from October 1985 describe two men, one 5”11 with braids and the other 5”6, as having been responsible for eight carjackings within a forty-eight hour period. The eighth of these carjackings was reported at 5:45 a.m. on October 20, 1985, the same day a twenty-year-old white male named Nathan Blenner was kidnapped in a neighborhood near the other carjackings. Blenner was abducted while sitting behind the wheel of his car in front of his family’s house. A female witness around the corner from Blenner’s home was accosted by two men who matched the above descriptions within an hour and a half of Blenner’s abduction – what we believe was the ninth carjacking of the spree. Blenner was later found murdered, lying facedown at the rear of Aberdeen Park in Brooklyn, NY.
Five days later, Brooklyn Detective Joseph Butta, in whose precinct the murder had taken place, questioned two known carjackers, identified in the film as Murray and Jake. In the midst of this interview, Jake said he knew someone named Willie Stuckey – aka Supreme – who was trying to sell a gun “with a body on it.” He said man named James – later identified as James Johnson – had originally given this gun to Supreme. Since Detective Butta is now deceased, we can only speculate as to why he stopped pursuing Murray and Jake as suspects.
On October 27, 1985, McCallum and Stuckey, both short 16-year-olds from Brooklyn known as Supreme (and both black), were arrested and charged with the kidnapping and the subsequent murder. They both gave videotaped confessions, admitting guilt while blaming each other for the actual murder. According to McCallum, each was told, “You tell me that he did it, and you can go home.” Their statements indicate that McCallum and Stuckey hopped a train to Queens, entered Blenner’s all-white neighborhood, and randomly kidnapped Blenner in his own car. No physical evidence tied these two 16-year-old boys to the crime, yet they confessed to the murder on videotape. After initially denying he knew anything about a murder, McCallum was left by himself for almost two hours until Stuckey was brought into the interrogation room to identify him. McCallum was then told by the detective that Stuckey claimed McCallum had shot Nathan Blenner. According to David and Willie, both boys were beaten and coerced into confessing. The two confessions contained inconsistencies about several keys facts, including the number of shots fired and the time of the murder. McCallum’s mother was not able to see or speak to her son until the following day.
These coerced confessions were and still are the only evidence tying either McCallum or Stuckey to the crime. McCallum and Stuckey left not a single fingerprint on or in Nathan Blenner’s car or on the kerosene can used to burn it, and yet other people did. No evidence found at the crime scene implicated them. Nor was any evidence found on their shoes or clothing. The gun that was used to kill the victim was never found. Not a single witness ever identified McCallum or Stuckey as being with the deceased. Not a single witness ever saw McCallum driving Blenner’s car, although he supposedly drove it around town for two days after the murder. David McCallum maintains that he has never driven a car.
The first witness, James Johnson, testified that he had possession of a gun early in October 1985. He said his friend Jamie got the gun and gave it to Willie Stuckey. In exchange for this testimony against Stuckey and McCallum, Johnson was let off a weapon’s charge stemming from an altercation in a bodega in which he fired shots. He openly admitted in court to cutting this deal.
Two eyewitnesses, boys aged ten and eleven, verified that a kidnapping had actually taken place. Neither boy identified Stuckey or McCallum in court. They began their testimonies, during the investigation and at the grand jury, by stating that there was a significant, visible height disparity between the kidnappers. During the trial, the District Attorney, unchallenged by the defense, kept describing one of the abductors as being “a little bigger” than the other one.
But the most valuable and intriguing witness never made it into the trial herself. A woman, identified in the film as Chrissy, was outside washing her red car in the Blenner’s neighbourhood not long before Nathan was abducted. When police canvassed the neighbourhood, Chrissy told them she had seen two “black men” walking north on her street, one of whom complimented her car – a Buick Regal just like Blenner’s. The verbal exchange between one of the men and Chrissy was typical of what might be expected in an area of the city where black people were not often seen:
MAN: That’s a nice looking car.
CHRISSY: If it’s not here tomorrow, I’ll know where to look.
Chrissy described one of the men as having braided hair. She also said that both men had “thin builds” and were of noticeably different heights – 5”10 and 5”5, matching the pattern of armed carjackings that had been taking place in Queens at the time. Neither McCallum nor Stuckey had braided hair. And they were both the same height – five feet, five inches tall, McCallum 160 pounds and Stuckey 150 pounds. In the same police report, Chrissy stated that she “would be able to identify the two black males and would view photos.” She was never called to testify in court by the prosecution or the defense. When interviewed in 2006 by a private investigator, Chrissy remembered that Detective Butta came back and showed her photographs of two black males whom she insisted were not the two men she saw. In clear violation of normal procedures, no police report of this contact exists. Nor was there a follow-up. Whose pictures did she see? We believe they were photographs of McCallum and Stuckey; when Butta didn’t get the answer he was seeking, he jettisoned Chrissy from his case against the two boys.
The violation of police procedures relating to this incident was the basis of an appeal by David McCallum’s legal team in 2009. It was denied by the Brooklyn District Court on the grounds that the appeal did not technically present new evidence, since David’s lawyer could have discovered it back in 1985.
When Butta was questioned in court about Chrissy’s description, he erroneously claimed she had told him the incident took place at 12PM noon – a falsehood that the the Assistant District Attorney then reiterated and tried to confirm himself, a breach ethics which outraged Stuckey’s defense lawyer.
Having helped Butta establish this “fact” in court, the ADA then argued that Chrissy was washing her car hours before the crime was committed, and thus her encounter with the two men should be disregarded. Yet the police investigator’s notebook clearly says that Chrissy was washing her car at approximately 1400 hours (2 p.m.) – just over an hour before Nathan was abducted. And despite the fact that the men Chrissy saw were supposedly irrelevant to the case, Willie’s confession contains an account of meeting a woman washing “a red car.” Since Chrissy’s description of the men who approached her does not match David and Willie, Professor Steven Drizin, Director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University, argues this as a “false fed fact.” The term refers to the police practice of feeding a suspect details to be included in a confession.
Two completely different young men were actually picked up on October 25, 1985, for robbery in Queens. According to the detective’s notes, “one had braided hair.” And amazingly, police discovered that one of the suspects worked at the hardware store “where the kerosene can that was found in Blenner’s car originated.” These men – who the film identifies as Murray and Jake – were never charged with anything related to this case.
David McCallum’s aging lawyer was attempting to litigate six other serious cases at the time of the trial. He made no opening statement to the jury, which is highly unusual, especially for a murder case. He failed to call any witnesses for the defense, aside from McCallum’s mother and sister, even though many other young people had been in the park where David and Willie were playing on the day of Blenner’s kidnapping. Most importantly, David’s lawyer failed to interview Chrissy, the woman who had been accosted by two probable suspects while washing her car. David’s lawyer was disbarred shortly after the trial when he was found guilty on five charges of professional misconduct.
The trial lasted just a week and the jury deliberated for less than one hour before reaching a guilty verdict. McCallum and Stuckey were shackled and sent upstate, each receiving a sentence of 25-years-to-life. The court opposed any release ‘ever.’ Over the next seven years, without even a high-school diploma, David McCallum appealed on every point that the courts would allow, including: Ineffective assistance of counsel; an overly harsh sentence for two sixteen-year-olds; and the fact that the confessions, taken under duress, should have been inadmissible.
The law clearly states that for appeals, an argument can only be used once, so David’s legal team is now faced with finding new evidence that was not available at the time of trial. David & Me picks up the story as directors Ray Klonsky and Marc Lamy follow the continuing search for new evidence to get David a retrial.
Willie Stuckey died in prison in 2001. The cause of his death remains unknown to David’s team.