Lost paperwork costs man 19 years in prison
Thursday, September 9th 1999, 12:00 am
News On 6
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- For 19 years, a convicted killer told prison
officials, prosecutors and a string of court-appointed attorneys
that he had done his time and was no longer supposed to be locked
He had a deal with prosecutors, he kept telling them.
But it was not until this summer that anyone could find the
David Marshall Brown, 54, was finally released last week.
"I was surprised that he had no anger. His feeling is that he
knows there had been a mistake made and he wanted to get out of
prison," said one of Brown's current attorneys, Sharon Meisler.
During the years he languished behind bars, Brown described in
detail a 1965 plea agreement in which he was supposed to be
released by 1980. But no one could find the seven-page deal, and
his original lawyer was dead.
Ms. Meisler, who works in the public defender's office and was
hired to research Brown's case in March, found the lost paperwork
in July -- misfiled in a folder for one of his co-defendants, who
was freed in 1976.
"It looks like what happened is the boys' (files) got separated
into different boxes and the memo goes into a box that does not
belong to David Brown. And nobody checks," Ms. Meisler said.
"This was before the days of copy machines."
The prosecutor who agreed to the deal in 1965, Richard S. Lowe,
who is now a judge, said he does not recall the agreement.
Brown declined to be interviewed. He has no family in the area
but is staying with friends and looking for a manual labor job, Ms.
Assistant District Attorney Mary Ann Killinger said her office
has not opposed Brown's release since the 1970s, but she did not
know why he remained in prison. The state parole board was unable
to find a file on him.
There are no plans for a lawsuit against the state, according to
Brown's current court-appointed attorney, Dominick Centrella.
It is unclear whether he could sue anyway, said University of
Pennsylvania law professor Edward Rubin.
"That's a very hard thing to file suit about, that someone
should have found something that was misfiled," Rubin said.
"There's a natural instinct that there ought to be some remedy in
a situation like this. The real tragedy is that no one can give him
his life back."
Brown was 19 when he was arrested with two other Warminster men
-- Michael McCaffrey and Daniel O'Neill -- for the murder of Eugene
T. Jordan, the 62-year-old owner of a delicatessen. Brown, who was
armed with a police nightstick, was charged with accompanying
O'Neill, the shooter, into the deli. McCaffrey drove the getaway
Brown and McCaffrey pleaded guilty to murder and robbery and got
life sentences in a deal that stipulated that prosecutors would not
oppose parole after 15 years. McCaffrey was released more than two
decades ago. O'Neill remains in prison serving a life sentence.
Brown earned a high school equivalency degree in prison and has
about half the credits necessary for a college degree.
Recently, he was allowed to work outside prison in various
programs, including one in which he described what it was like to
be behind bars.