Raymond Warren: Montgomery County
Sixteen-year-old “neighborhood mechanic,” Raymond Warren was convicted of murder in the 1994 death of Wendell Simpson. Police had been called to an accident scene in which a car had crashed into a house and the driver had been shot and killed. Two men reported that they stopped when they noticed the wrecked car and the driver leaning out the window, waving his arms. One of the men reached inside the car and put it in park. He reached in again and turned off the engine. Neither of the men called 911 and both were preparing to leave the scene when the police arrived. The men were interviewed, but neither was fingerprinted or tested for gunshot residue (GSR).
Raymond Warren approached the accident scene on his scooter. Raymond told police he had been with two friends when the victim approached them, looking to buy drugs. The boys refused and walked away. Moments later, they heard gunshots.
Several hours later, Raymond agreed to be interviewed by police. He was Mirandized, waived his rights and voluntarily submitted to a GSR test. Officers performed an Atomic Absorption test and took swabs of his right palm, the back of his right hand, his left palm, and the back of his left hand. Barium and antimony—two components of GSR—were detected only on the palm of Raymond’s right hand. Raymond is left-handed.
At trial, the two boys who had been with Raymond helping him fix the tire on his scooter the night of the murder, testified against him. However, in 1999, one of the boys executed an affidavit recanting his testimony. In the affidavit, the young man admitted that his testimony was false and that he had been told if he did not testify against Raymond, he would be charged with the murder. In 2008, the second young man came forward to recant his trial testimony. He, too, explained that he was told he would be charged with the murder if he did not testify against Raymond. He said he lied because he was young and intimidated by the police.
Since Raymond’s trial, the scientific community has all but abandoned atomic absorption testing due to its limitations, unreliability and its tendency toward false positives. Beginning in 2000, analysts began to identify “unique gunshot residue” as a fused particle of barium, antimony and lead. The atomic absorption test used in Raymond’s case tested only for barium and antimony separately. New research has shown that a number of substances contain both barium and antimony. Most notable among these substances—for a mechanic like Raymond—are brake pads. The finding that some brake pads have been found to contain barium, antimony and even lead has especially prompted the industry shift away from atomic absorption testing. Typically, the particles in brake pads are not fused, making them distinguishable from those found in GSR, except in atomic absorption testing, as was used in Raymond’s case.
In addition to the likelihood that Raymond’s brake pads led to the positive result on the Atomic Absorption test, there was also a high risk of contamination. Recent studies have shown that GSR is readily present in the back of police cars and in police stations, is easily transferrable, and may lead to falsely “positive” GSR tests. And in this case, it is entirely possible that Raymond came into contact with GSR at some point during his arrest—as he was handcuffed, seated in the back of the police car, or inside the police station.
But during Raymond’s trial, there was no testimony that contact with brake pads could cause a positive result, and there was very limited testimony about contamination. Instead, the State’s witness testified that the Atomic Absorption Test showed that Raymond shot a gun, handled a weapon, or was the victim of a shooting. The barium and antimony found on Raymond’s non-dominant hand was likely caused by his contact with the brake pads on his scooter, contamination, or both.
This scientific discovery is newly discovered evidence that undermines what was presented at his 1995 trial. Raymond’s case is pending in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas.