A man wrongfully convicted of murdering a cab driver has been set free after nearly four decades behind bars.
“I thought I was going to die in prison,” Frederick Clay said as he was released from prison on Tuesday.
Suffolk County (Mass.) District Attorney Daniel F. Conley’s Office officials ordered Clay’s release after they said they would no longer prosecute him in connection with a November 1979 murder.
Clay was a teenager when he was arrested in 1979 and subsequently convicted in 1981 of first-degree murder in death of 28-year-old cab driver Jeffrey Boyajian, was shot five times in the head.
Conley said an investigation by the Conviction Integrity Program found that justice may not have been done at Clay’s trial and dismissed the charges, setting him free after 38 years in prison.
“I’ve been locked up since I was 16, and now I’m 53, so there’s a lot of life I need to catch up on,” Clay said.
The CIP reviews and, if necessary, re-investigates wrongful conviction claims while identifying policies and practices to prevent them from recurring, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
Conley’s decision to end all proceedings against Clay followed a detailed examination of the evidence at trial, which included identifications by two witnesses — one a cab driver who was hypnotized after viewing three men entering Boyajian’s cab in Boston’s Combat Zone and the other a developmentally-disabled young man whose apartment overlooked the murder scene.
Conley said that he had additional concerns given the use of hypnosis to enhance witnesses’ recollections -– a practice largely discredited in the modern age -– and that prosecutors could not refute a second prong of Clay’s motion, which alleged that his trial and appellate attorney was ineffective for failing to challenge one of the identifications more aggressively or pursue a plausible third-party culprit defense that might have bolstered his defense of mistaken identity.
“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 filed a motion for a new trial in 2016.
Boyajian’s younger brother and Boyajian’s sister-in-law were at Tuesday’s hearing and both supported the decision to release Clay, according to Conley’s office.