BOSTON – A Boston man who spent 38 years in prison in the killing of a cab driver was released Tuesday after a prosecutor agreed to vacate his conviction based on “significant doubt” about the fairness of his trial, including the reliance on a witness who had been hypnotized.
Frederick Clay was 16 when he was charged in the 1979 fatal shooting of 28-year-old cabbie Jeffrey Boyajian in Boston.
Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley said he agreed to vacate Clay’s conviction after reviewing evidence presented at his 1981 trial. That included the use of hypnosis on another cab driver who identified Clay as one of three men he saw get in Boyajian’s cab in Boston’s Combat Zone, then an adult entertainment district.
Conley said investigators also unsuccessfully tried to hypnotize a second witness, a developmentally disabled man whose apartment overlooked the spot where Boyajian was shot five times in the head during a robbery.
In a statement, Conley’s office said the re-investigation by his office’s conviction-integrity unit did not find “conclusive proof” of Clay’s innocence but “raised significant doubt as to the fairness of his trial and the justice of his conviction.”
Conley said he had concerns about the use of hypnosis to enhance the recollections of witnesses, a practice that has been largely discredited.
“As a prosecutor, my duty is to justice, not a conviction,” Conley said. “Given what we know today, that duty was best fulfilled by affirmatively ending any further proceedings against Mr. Clay.”
Clay’s lawyers had been seeking a new trial, arguing that witness testimony was unreliable.
Clay, who is now in his 50s, was granted parole last year as a result of recent court rulings banning life sentences for juveniles in murder cases. He was moved to a minimum-security prison in preparation for his release.
They asked Conley’s office to re-examine the evidence against him as part of the motion for a new trial.
“It’s just a long time coming, to quote Sam Cooke,” Clay told reporters after his release. “This is the first time I’ve walked without shackles, so it’s strange.”