Christian Amado

Convicted with zero evidence of guilt

Based solely on what might aptly be described as an identification that wasn't, a Boston jury found twenty-one-year-old Christian Amado guilty of murder in 1980.

The victim, George Sneed, a twenty-eight-year-old African American, was shot to death on the steps of an apartment building at 131 Zeigler Street, Boston, early the evening of February 4, 1980. There was one eyewitness — Frederick Johnson, who told police he saw a man pull a rifle from beneath his dark three-quarter-length coat, level it at Sneed, and say, "Do you think I'm some kind of faggot or punk?" The man then fired three shots, turned, and ran. Sneed was pronounced dead at the scene.

Johnson described the killer as a tall, light-complexioned black man who had a large nose and wore a cap pulled down to the top of his eyebrows and a turtleneck or scarf pulled up to his top lip. A week after the crime, police showed Johnson a set of eight photographs of men ostensibly matching the general description. Johnson said one of the photos was of a man he knew as "Bugsy," but stopped short of identifying that man — Amado — as the killer.

Nonetheless, two months later, without a live lineup or any other evidence, Amado was indicted for first-degree murder. The following October 29, he went on trial before Suffolk Superior Court Judge Herbert Abrams. On direct examination, Johnson testified that he had identified Amado's photo from the array he was shown by police. The prosecution did not ask Johnson whether he actually had stated that Amado was the killer. But Amado's lawyer, Frank G. Kelleher, did ask, and Johnson replied that he had not. In fact, Johnson went further, saying he was "positive" that Amado was not the man. At the end of the prosecution case, with no evidence linking Amado to the crime having been elicited, Kelleher moved for a directed finding of not guilty — but Abrams denied the motion. On October 29, 1980, despite having heard no evidence of guilt, the jury returned a verdict of guilty, and Abrams proceeded to sentence Amado to life in prison.

Amado remained behind bars for the next twenty-two months — until August 1982 when the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts unanimously reversed his conviction outright, holding that Abrams had erred in denying the motion for a not-guilty finding and that a retrial was barred on double-jeopardy grounds. Amado was promptly freed.

— Maggie Domaradzki