Everyone says you were there. You could go to jail for decades. “You’ll never see your child.”
Paulio heard those statements from two city cops—then came forward and accused his friend of killing Mitchell Dubey.
The conversation took place last August in a videotaped interview at police headquarters with Detective Wayne Bullock and Sgt. Tony Reyes, who were trying to solve the murder of Dubey, a popular downtown bike mechanic who was shot in the chest during a robbery in his Newhallville home on March 24, 2011.
The conversation replayed Friday morning on video monitors in Judge Jon C. Blue’s fourth-floor courtroom in state Superior Court on Church Street, where a 12-person jury has been weighing the fate of the man charged with killing Dubey, Tashaun Fair.
Fair, who’s 20, has maintained his innocence. Paulio, his former friend from Newhallville, has emerged as the state’s key witness in the trial. His word is the only evidence identifying Fair as the killer. There is no physical evidence placing Fair at the scene and no weapons were recovered. On the video, Paulio tells police he served as a lookout to the robbery, saw Fair go into the house with a mask and a silver gun, heard one gunshot, then saw Fair run away.
In a dramatic reversal that threw a wrench in the prosecution’s case, Paulio recanted his story in court this week. Judge Blue let the prosecution play the videotaped statement for jurors in effort to salvage its case.
The jury now has to determine what to believe: The story Paulio told cops on the video? Or his testimony in court that he “made up” the story?
For two hours Friday, jurors watched the video, scribbling down notes and paging through a transcript to help decipher the often muffled words.
The video sheds light on why Paulio, who was reluctant to serve as a “snitch,” ultimately spoke out against his friend. It reveals the persuasive tactics police used to coax Paulio’s statement—including a variety of threats, promises, and entreaties to his conscience as a father-to-be.
Paulio walked into the courtroom Friday wearing a big, gray Champion sweatshirt, blue jeans, and a New York Giants baseball cap. His mom, aunt and sister sat in the gallery to support him.
Doyle told the judge Thursday that Paulio is facing pressure at home not to rat out his friend.
“Just be quiet!” his mom urged him as he took the stand.
Paulio did stay quiet. He sat in the stand as the jury watched the videotape for two hours, broken up by several breaks. He fidgeted, yawned, shook his head, held his head in his hands, and mouthed words to his family at various points of the two-hour screening.
The video captures an interview Paulio gave police on Aug. 26, 2012 at police headquarters at 1 Union Ave. It shows Paulio walk alongside Detective Bullock and Sgt. Reyes into an interviewing room, which has a camera embedded in the wall. Paulio is wearing a T-shirt, long camouflage shorts and the same New York Giants cap he wore Friday—which he reluctantly took off only at the last minute, right before court began.
At the time of the interview, Paulio was 21. He had been caught on five warrants for failure to appear in burglary cases, according to police.
Bullock took the lead of the interview. He played the part of “good cop.” For the first three-quarters of the interview, Paulio stayed quiet while Bullock spoke to him. The two had developed a relationship when Bullock visited him at “Little Cheshire,” the nickname for Manson Youth Correctional Institution in Cheshire, to talk about the murder. Paulio had told Bullock a man named Tashaun with a tattoo of his mother’s name, Ruby, did the killing. But until August, he didn’t give eyewitness testimony describing Fair go into the house.
Bullock used a mix of heartfelt statements and tough talk.
“We’re here to help you,” he told Paulio.
He told Paulio he faces big trouble. Bullock claimed he had talked to five people who are “willing to stand up and say the Bassett Street [killing] is yours.” They’re willing to sign photo boards identifying Paulio, Bullock warned.
Bullock said Paulio stood to go to jail for a long time for his role in the crime. Home invasion alone carries a minimum 10-year sentence. And felony murder carries a sentence of up to life in jail.
Bullock said he knows Paulio didn’t do the murder. He tried to appeal to his conscience, referring back to a conversation he had with Paulio at Little Cheshire.
“Do you remember that conversation?” Bullock asked. “You cried.”
Paulio replied that he cried because Bullock showed him a picture of a “dead guy” with his “stomach cut open.”
No, Bullock countered—“you started crying when you started telling me what you were told” by Fair about the murder. Paulio allegedly told Bullock that Fair described committing the murder, and seeing a woman on the stairs when he entered the house.
“What makes me believe you, Paul,” is that he described a fact that was not released publicly—that a woman was on the staircase at the time of the crime. (The defense disputes that fact, arguing the woman arrived on the staircase after the killer left.)
“You were able to give me a very big piece of information that we never released,” Bullock told him. “And you weren’t inside the house because you don’t match the description whatsoever.”
Bullock said though he doesn’t believe Paulio did the crime, others are pegging it on him: “So far, you’re the only one that those people are willing to testify against.”
“Do You Want To See Your Baby?”
Bullock then offered to help Paulio with his legal troubles—so that he could see his soon-to-be-born son. Bullock said Paulio was facing several failure-to-appear warrants, for which he was going to be locked up without bond.
Bullock said he could talk to the state about letting Paulio out on a bond. At the time, Paulio was three months away from being a father.
“You want to be there when the baby is born?” Bullock asked him.
He gave Paulio a choice: “you’re either a witness or an accomplice.”
If you’re an accomplice, you do time. If you’re a witness, the state can help you.
“You know who did it,” urged Bullock. “You didn’t do this. You’ve never been involved in this kind of shit before. You’re a burglar.”
“Do you want to see your baby?” Bullock asked. “Hold the child in your arms?”
Bullock appealed several times to Paulio’s position as a father-to-be—both to connect to him on a personal level, and to try to get him to connect emotionally to Dubey’s family. Bullock spoke passionately about how much he cares for his own children, and how he left his own family on Long Island on his day off to drive to New Haven to interview Paulio.
“Some people don’t give a shit that they’re having a kid,” he told Paulio. “You do. That tells me you care.”
“You’re 21 years old. You’re in the most important conversation of your life. I will help you,” Bullock urged. “All you have to do is tell me.”
He told Paulio that Dubey’s dad is paralyzed. And that Mitchell Dubey was completely innocent.
“That kid that got killed? Somebody put a bullet in his chest,” Bullock said. “There’s nothing worse than to lose your child.”
“The problem with this homicide is—this person wasn’t in the game. He didn’t do anything,” Bullock said.
“This person did nothing wrong and that bothers people,” Bullock said. He added that Mayor John DeStefano was calling him frequently to urge him to solve the case.
Bullock told Paulio that time was limited: “I could write a warrant for you” for the Dubey case, he warned. “The only person who can stop that is you.”
“You have the chance right now” to testify against Fair and avoid getting in trouble for his role in the robbery. “That door’s going to shut real soon.”
Sgt. Reyes vowed to help Paulio find a witness protection program, and get on a plane to Texas if he needs to.
“They’ll look at me like a snitch,” protested Paulio.
Bullock argued that being a “snitch” is way better than ending up in jail for the crime. “You think they’re going to remember you 30 years from now when you get out?” he asked. “They’re going to forget you the second you go away.”
“You’re Going To Feel Better”
After roughly an hour and a half, Paulio finally succumbed.
“You’re struggling, Paul,” Bullock coaxed. “Once you say the first word, the floodgates open. You’re going to feel better.”
“What happened that night?” he asked. “It’s OK. Take your time.”
Paulio took a big pause. Then he began.
“I don’t know where to start,” he said. Then he described walking over to Bassett Street with Fair to commit the robbery. He claimed he saw a white boy get out of a car and go into the Bassett Street home.
Paulio said Fair told him: “He must got bread. I’m gonna go rob him.” Fair figured “must be he have money or something,” Paulio said, “cause he’s the only white boy on the block.”
Paulio said he stood outside, a couple of houses away, as Fair went into the house.
“How did he get in the house?” Bullock asked.
“I guess they opened it for him,” Paulio said—a fact that’s consistent with other eyewitness testimony.
Paulio said he saw Fair go into the house with a silver gun. Then “I just heard a shot.” Then Paulio took off.
“I was supposed to look [out] ... but I ran,” Paulio said.
He said Fair “told everybody” about the killing the next day. Fair said he shot the victim because “the guy kept talking” instead of cooperating with the robbery.
At the end of the interview, Reyes and Bullock showed Paulio a photo array. Paulio picked out Fair’s picture and signed it, according to police’s spoken description of what was happening. The interview ended at 9:45 p.m.
Jurors finished viewing the video late Friday afternoon. Judge Blue called court to a close. He said Paulio will be locked up at Union Avenue over the weekend. Paulio recently violated parole by not showing up to a scheduled appointment, according to Doyle.
The defense and prosecution plan to ask Paulio their own questions—in person—when court resumes Monday.
Judge: Paulio’s Story Has “Flavor” Of Truth
Judge Blue admitted the video into evidence after spending “all night” thinking about it, and then weighing both sides in a morning hearing before the jury arrived.
The state asked to introduce the video after Paulio took the stand Thursday and recanted the statement he made on the video. He said he “made up” the story and does not know Fair.
Trouble with the witness began Wednesday, when he failed to show up to court. The judge ordered authorities to apprehend him and hold him in custody. Then, after the witness became uncooperative on the stand Thursday, Doyle told the court that his witness was under pressure not to testify against Fair. He asked that the witness remain in police custody overnight to ensure that he would return to court.
Doyle then turned to Plan B: Bank his case on the videotaped statement Paulio gave to police, not on live testimony given in court.
Doyle asked to submit the video based on the Whelan Rule, which allows for previously recorded statements to be submitted into court if they show prior inconsistent evidence. In this case, Doyle is trying to show that what Paulio said to police last August is the truth—not what he said in court Thursday.
Ullmann objected to releasing the video under a so-called Mukhtaar trustworthiness test. He argued Paulio’s statement is not trustworthy for several reasons.
First, timeliness: Paulio gave the statement to cops one year and five months after the murder occurred. Second, he said the statement occurred under coercive conditions. At the time he gave his statement, Paulio was a “meek, vulnerable” man in custody on other charges.
“The police behavior here is coercive in nature,” said Ullmann of the interview. It includes “threats of prosecution for murder, home invasion, attempted robbery” and “constant threats” and promises such as, “time is running out for you”; “we’ll help you”; “we’ll get you out of jail”; and “we’ll talk to the state’s attorney.” Police also threatened that if Paulio didn’t cooperate, “you’ll never see your child” who is about to be born, according to Ullmann.
Third, Ullmann raised several factual assertions that don’t match Dubey’s roommates and friends’ testimony. In the videotaped statement, Paulio claims he served as a lookout to the attempted robbery. Paulio said he and Fair were “outside of 29 Bassett St. on that night when they observe a vehicle drive up, park, and a fat white man get out and go into the house,” according to Ullmann. The fat white man went in to the house no longer than 30 minutes before Fair went in, the testimony reads.
“We know that that’s completely false,” Ullmann said—no fat white man entered Dubey’s home anytime close to the shooting, according to Dubey’s friends’ testimony.
Ullmann pointed out two other details that he said cast into doubt the reliability of the account: Paulio said Fair told him he saw a woman on the stairs in the house. The intruder would not have seen a woman on the stairs, Ullmann argued: A female housemate testified she did walk down the stairs—but not until later.
“She testifies she never saw him,” Ullmann said. “It’s totally false.”
Finally, Paulio said Fair told him he shot the victim because the victim “came at him.” That’s contrary to what witnesses said: Dubey actually sat down on the couch with his hands up and said, “Dude, put the gun down.”
Judge Blue pointed out that the last detail doesn’t necessarily mean Paulio lied: Fair could plausibly have made up the detail about Dubey coming at him to ease his own guilt.
Finally, Ullmann (pictured) argued that the witness is “meek” and “susceptible” to coercion by the cops. For the bulk of his police interview—65 of 88 pages—Paulio denied being at the scene, Ullmann said.
“If this set of facts doesn’t fit the Mukhtaar trustworthiness test—you have coerciveness, promises, false facts,” Ullmann argued, “I don’t know what does.”
Doyle countered that Paulio did say the victim was on the stairs, but not during this particular videotaped interview. And he said the “fat white man” could have arrived at the house earlier in the night, and Paulio could have gotten the timing wrong.
Doyle said Paulio did give several facts that match eyewitness descriptions of the crime: the silver gun, the caliber of the gun, the fact that the intruder covered his face, and the number of gunshots—one. Paulio also said Fair told him he wanted to rob the house, which is consistent with what happened, Doyle argued.
Despite the inconsistencies Ullmann pointed out, Doyle countered: “I don’t believe that based on the totality of the statement, that it makes it totally unreliable as a whole.”
Doyle added that throughout his interactions with police, Paulio “fears talking to police” and “fears being called a snitch”—which explains why he initially denied knowing anything about the crime.
Judge Blue said he weighed the question with great care. The state’s whole case rested on his decision: Without the video, the state has no evidence tying Fair to the crime.
“I thought about this all night. I’ll get my rest when I have eternal rest,” said Blue with characteristic humor.
He ultimately decided to admit the video. “Mr. Ullmann has made some excellent arguments that can be made in front of the jury,” he said. On the question of police coercion, Blue said, “I see where TU is coming from … there’s a good cop, bad cop routine.” Paulio “is given threats of a long jail sentence,” he noted.
However, Blue argued, “a great deal of the police rhetoric” consists of “appeals to the better angels of our nature”—appeals that “entreat [Paulio] in his sense of honor, his sense of duty as a man and a father-to-be.”
Ultimately, Blue argued that Ullmann’s objections may be strong enough to cast doubt in a juror’s mind, but are not strong enough to prevent the jury from seeing the video at all.
Blue said Paulio’s testimony “has the flavor of something told by someone who was there,” he said—citing details such as the color of the gun, the number of gunshots, and the mask over the intruder’s face.
“This is not the bare recitation of the accusation that Tashaun did it,” Blue said, nor the account of a man who is “just parroting words put into his head by police.”
Therefore, Blue argued, Paulio’s testimony “should not be kept from the jury.”
Court went into recess at 11 a.m. so that the defense and prosecution could put together proposals on which parts of the video—if any—they sought to redact. They ended up not deciding to redact anything, but to let the jury see the entire two-hour interview.
Family Issues Statement
Dubey’s parents and sister, who have attended every minute of the trial, issued a written statement Thursday about the case. Dubey hailed from Los Angeles; his family, including his dad, who is paralyzed from the neck down, flew east for the trial.
Witnesses to the crime “will never forget what they saw,” and “we will never forget the wonderful son, brother and friend that Mitchell was,” the statement reads.
“We would like to thank the community of New Haven for their outpouring of love and support and honoring Mitchell’s memory,” it continues. “This community became a true home for Mitchell. Thank you for embracing him as he embraced you.”
The family thanked New Haven police and the state’s attorney “for their tireless work and kindness while working to bring justice for Mitchell.”
“This is an incredibly difficult time for our family and we hope the person responsible for this senseless crime will be held accountable for his actions.”
Previous Independent stories on the case:
• Top Cop Testifies He Never Forgot That Face
• The Sketch Doesn’t Match
• 2 Families, 2 Worlds—& A Quest For Justice
• Does Tashaun Fair Have Freckles?
• State Seeks Informant’s Name; Feds Seek To Hide It
• Defense Attorney Files Speedy Trial Motion In Mitch Dubey Murder Case
• Freckles, FBI Reports Spark “Innocent” Claim
• Supporters Emerge For Dubey Murder Suspect
• Dubey’s Killer Allegedly Panicked, Shot