On the night of October 1, 2005, Nigel Whatley and Michael Morris were leaving Club Boi, a now closed gay and bisexual nightclub in Liberty City and were walking back to Morris' new Infiniti G35. That's when a man attempted to rob them. The assailant ended up shooting Whatley to death behind Player's Club, a strip club located next door, and several rounds wounded Morris.
Andre Gonzales ended up being convicted of the crime in 2010, and he's now serving multiple life sentences behind bars. But the Medill Justice Project claims to have uncovered new evidence perhaps exonerating Gonzales.
The most crucial piece the Justice Project turned up is an interview with Arnold "Maniac" Clark, a former bounce at Player's Club who is now behind bars himself. Clark says he remembers that night, and identified the shooter as a friend of his. When interviewed he said he had no idea who Gonzales is, nor did he know that anyone wound up being convicted for the crime. Asked why he never came forward with this info, Clark cited many Liberty City residents' policy of never talking to police.
“Did I address what I saw?” Clark told the Medill Justice Project. “No. Did I ever ask [my friend] why? No. Never did I. Why did I never say anything? It’s not necessarily that it’s my business ... if something is said in that neighborhood, it’s going to go around. So you never know who’s going to get feedback or where the feedback is going to come from because that area is tight-knit … You’d be basically a sitting duck so just be quiet about it.”
Gonzales wound up as the main suspect because a stocking cap with his DNA on it was found 11 feet from Whatley's body, and the surviving victim said he was 60 percent certain that Gonzales was the killer nine months after the attack. No murder weapon was ever found.
Jurors from the trial also tell the Medill Justice Project that many of the jury wanted to get the deliberation over with because it was a Friday and they all wanted to return home.
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The judge in the trial, John W. Thornton Jr., also had reservations about the verdict sent back by the jury and had previously tried to get Whatley a new trial, but his order was overturned by a higher courts of appeal.
A program of Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism, the Medill Justice Project has probed cases where innocent people may have been convicted since 1999. Their efforts have lead to the convictions of 11 men being overturned.