where a criminal defendant is unable to afford the attendant expenses.
Eva Sawyer, a social acquaintance of defendant, was beaten and stabbed to death in her apartment in Brooklyn in May 1988. Police investigators found no evidence of forced entry into her apartment. The door and all windows were locked save for the window leading to the fire escape.
The day after the murder, defendant voluntarily accompanied a police detective to the precinct for questioning. He was asked about and described his romantic relationship with the victim, and suggested that he had recently endeavored to end it. He claimed not to have seen her for several days prior to her murder. He also stated that he had spent the entire night in question with another woman.
During the interview, detectives noticed spots that appeared to be dried blood on defendant's sneakers. He claimed the spots were mud from a newly planted tree, and over protest surrendered the sneakers to the police. Later testing proved the spots to be Type O blood, consistent with the victim's blood type (along with 45 percent of the population) but not with defendant's. He was subsequently arrested in July 1988.
At trial in June of the next year, proof of defendant's guilt included the evidence that blood spots on his sneakers were consistent with the blood type of the victim, that he enlisted a girlfriend in an attempt to falsely corroborate his alibi, and — most critically — that a witness had observed him on the fire escape just outside of the victim's apartment immediately before the crime was committed.
Although defendant persistently challenged the admissibility of the blood evidence at trial and on appeal, see People v. Thomas, 188 A.D.2d 569, 569-72, 591 N.Y.S.2d 464 (2d Dep't 1989), he does not now press that claim.
The only issues in the present proceeding center on the witness testimony concerning defendant's presence on the fire escape of the victim's apartment.
Various police officers at trial established the likelihood that the murderer had entered or exited the victim's locked, second-floor apartment through a window opening onto the fire escape. The victim's cousin testified that the apartment's fire escape was at "the rear of her building." Trial Tr. at 55. There was no testimony at trial that there were other fire escapes on the building aside from one on the front of the building.
Having established that the murderer likely utilized the only fire escape that was located at the rear of the victim's building, the prosecution called as a witness Yvette Walker Artis (variously referred to in court papers as "Walker" and "Artis"), a young woman who at the time of trial was being held at Riker's Island on felony drug possession charges. On direct examination she acknowledged that in exchange for her testimony the district attorney would allow her to plead to a misdemeanor offense, thus avoiding altogether what might have been a potential 25-year prison sentence. Artis, whose parents lived at 836 Crown Street — the apartment building situated across a courtyard from 826 Crown Street, where the victim resided — was at her parents' apartment building on the evening of the murder.
At trial, Artis testified that at about 2:00 a.m. she was in a stairwell in her parents' building, staring out of a window that overlooked 826 Crown Street. As she stated on direct examination, from this vantage point she could see the back of the victim's building:
Q. Where is 836 Crown Street in relation to 826 Crown
A. Right next door.