BuzzFeed Serial Takes A Third Look At A New Haven Murder
In the early hours of July 4, 1993, New Haven, Connecticut, bodega owner Eugenio DeLeon Vega was shot in the head inside his store. Two local men, Ronald Taylor and George Gould, were jailed for the murder.
Eight years later, a private investigator begins reviewing the case. His investigation leads to their freedom. But the story doesn't end there.
Journalists Tim Stelloh and Freda Moon wrote a 4-part series about the case. It's called, "A Murder at La Casa Green," and it's being published over 4 days this week on BuzzFeed.
Why did you choose to write about this very local New Haven Story?
A number of years ago my co-author and wife Freda and I lived in New Haven. Freda at that time worked for an alternative weekly, the New Haven Advocate. She had covered this story, I believe in 2007, when the private investigator in the case, Gerry O'Donnell had gone public with his finding of his multi-year investigation. Over the years she followed the case. When we heard that Gerry O'Donnell had been arrested after Ronald Taylor and George Gould had been exonerated and then ordered back to prison, I had covered a number of wrong conviction cases and I just thought, wow, I've never heard of something like that happening. For an exoneration to happen it's an incredibly rare thing. For it then to be reversed, that astonished me.
After more than 20 years, isn't hard to verify what people they remember accurately? How do you do that?
That is in some ways the heart of this case. As we say in Part 1 and as becomes very clear in Part 2, eye witness testimony is problematic in criminal cases. There is only so much you can do, especially in a case like this where there's a single eyewitness. And there were people who put the witness, Doreen Stiles, at the scene of the crime as well, but she was the only one who said she saw these two men come out of the store and she heard what happened inside, which she said were gun shots and a conversation what sounded her like an argument between two men and Mr. DeLeon Vega. That being the case, with only one eye witness there's very little you can do to corroborate her accounting of the events. You know, two men were sent to prison for the rest of their lives, essentially. They both received 80 year prison terms. As the then prosecutor, James Clark said, this case rises and falls on the testimony of Doreen Stiles. I still am kind of astonished that a case like that can be prosecuted and sent to prison for the rest of their lives on that.
What do you think your reporting brings to the case?
I think everybody is kinda of dug into their positions here. I think Gerry O'Donnell believes Doreen Stiles was coerced into providing her testimony. The authorities on the other side of it say well no, it was actually Gerry O'Donnell who coerced her into the recantation of her original testimony from 1993. They obviously believe this because they pursued a criminal case against Gerry O'Donnell. What we've tried to do is sort through as much of that as we can and come to some understanding of who should we believe 20 years later. This has caused so much turmoil. Not to mention how difficult this must be for the family of DeLeon Vega. To have this out there, that the men who were convicted of killing their father, killing their brother, killing their uncle, well maybe they didn't do it, well for sure they didn't do it according to the exoneration, and then again ordering of them back to prison. It just must be so difficult for them to have this out there.