A newly freed Tashaun Fair said he can now enroll in Gateway Community College instead of spending decades behind prison gates, after a jury found him not guilty of killing downtown bike mechanic Mitchell Dubey.
Fair had been facing 25 years to life in prison for allegedly killing Dubey during a March 24, 2011 attempted robbery at Dubey’s Newhallville home. The jury found Fair not guilty of four charges: felony murder, first-degree robbery, home invasion, and carrying a pistol without a permit.
The 12-person jury, comprising five men and seven women, spent seven and a half days listening to evidence and closing arguments before retiring to Room 411 of state Superior Court on Church Street to deliberate Wednesday afternoon.
Fair, who has been locked up since Aug. 28, 2012, on a $2 million bond, was released from state custody around 5 p.m. into his family’s waiting arms. Ruby Avent, Tashaun’s mother, sent a message home to put on the chicken and macaroni and cheese to welcome her son home.
In a written statement, Dubey’s family thanked the jury for its work. “We trust that the jury worked dutifully to arrive at their verdict in this trial,” the family wrote. “Regardless of their verdict, the fact remains that a precious life was taken from family and friends; with the trial behind us, we all continue the burden of living without Mitchell.”
Reached by phone after the trial, the jury foreman, a civil lawyer from Cheshire, declined to comment for this story. Prosecutor Jack P. Doyle (pictured) declined to comment on the specifics of the case.
“I thank the jury for their time and their service and for considering the state’s case,” Doyle said as he escorted Dubey’s family away from the courthouse via Orange Street, dodging TV cameras.
The jury knocked on the courtroom door to announce their verdict at 4:03 p.m. Thursday. Fair’s aunt, criminal justice activist Barbara Fair, broke out into tears when she heard the first “not guilty.” Judge Jon. C. Blue asked her to leave the room.
“The crooked system did not prevail,” Barbara later declared. “My nephew is innocent.”
The jury had considered the fate of two young men, Dubey and Fair, from two very different walks of life. Dubey, who was 23 and white, was an underground music enthusiast from Los Angeles who worked at the downtown Devil’s Gear Bike Shop. Fair, who’s 20 and African-American, grew up in Newhallville and graduated from New Horizons, an alternative high school, where he played basketball. He has an almost-2-year-old daughter, Zamaya, whom he left last August when he headed to jail. Fair’s mother, stepdad, several siblings, niece, grandma, as well as his aunt, Barbara, showed up in court to support him.
Families and friends from the two young men’s lives converged on Judge Blue’s small fourth-floor courtroom at state Superior Court on Church Street for the trial. Dubey’s family flew in from California. Fair’s brother Lue Avent, a comedian who lives in Maine, showed up just in time for Thursday’s verdict. Fair’s mom, who works for Yale dining services, took the Yale shuttle to court from Newhallville. The families sat on opposite sides of court, creating a racial segregation that could not be ignored.
After the trial, Fair’s family gathered near the office of Chief Public Defender Tom Ullmann to await their son’s release.
“I’m glad taxpayer’s dollars are doing their job,” said Tashaun’s stepdad, Larry Daniels.
“I’m just happy he’s coming home,” said Avent (at left in photo), Tashaun’s mom. She said Tashaun’s daughter, who’s nearly 2, is “waiting at home” for her dad.
When Tashaun emerged, Ullmann hugged his client. “What a relief,” he said. Ullmann took a moment to show Fair the piles of paperwork he amassed as he worked on his client’s case. Then they stepped out into the muggy afternoon air.
“Obviously I’m thrilled about the verdict,” Ullmann said. “But as far as I’m concerned, he should never have been arrested” or prosecuted or held on a $2 million bond, forcing his incarceration for nearly a year. “On a case of this kind of evidence, to hold someone for that long on that kind of bond is outrageous,” he said.
“I want to thank my family and my attorney” for helping him through the trial, Fair said in brief remarks in front of TV cameras. He vowed to “go back to school” at Gateway Community College.
“I just want to further my education,” Fair said. He said he’s also looking forward to spending time with his daughter, who was about 1 year old when he left her to head to jail.
Ullmann said the longer the jury deliberated, the more worried he became. He had thought the verdict would have been a “no-brainer” because of the lack of evidence.
Dubey was killed on March 24, 2011 by an intruder in his Newhallville home. The basic facts of what happened that night are not in dispute: A man with a T-shirt covering his face and a hood pulled down over his forehead knocked on the door, brandished a gun and tried to rob Dubey and his friend when Dubey opened the door, according to several witnesses present in the home. Dubey sat down on the couch, put his hands up, and pleaded, “Dude, put down the gun.” Then the intruder fired a fatal bullet through Dubey’s chest and fled.
Cops never found the gun, or any physical evidence linking Fair to the crime. The state’s case against Fair rested on the testimony of one witness, a 22-year-old from Newhallville nicknamed Paulio. Paulio told police in a videotaped interview last August that he accompanied Fair to Dubey’s home at 29 Bassett St. to commit a robbery. Fair chose that house, which was around the corner from his own house in the mostly African-American neighborhood, because he knew white kids lived there, so they must have “bread,” according to Paulio. When Fair got to the house, he covered his face, knocked on the door, then was surprised to find more people inside than he had imagined, including a woman on the stairs, Paulio told police. Fair panicked and pulled the trigger, Paulio charged.
Paulio surprised both sides in the case with erratic behavior: First he failed to show up in court, then recanted his prior statement, then tried to escape a prisoner transport van, then finally showed up Monday and returned to his original accusation. The prosecution argued that that behavior was consistent with Paulio’s contention that he feared for his life if he “snitched.”
In closing statements, both sides agreed that the case rests on whether jurors believed Paulio—or whether they had “reasonable doubt” in his accusation.
Ullmann argued Thursday afternoon that even if jurors found Paulio’s testimony credible, there was still “reasonable doubt” that Fair did the crime. Jurors apparently agreed.
If not Fair, then who killed Dubey? Ullmann said one theory in the case is that a third man—who never appeared in court during the trial—actually pulled the trigger. That man fits the description eyewitnesses gave of the killer, Ullmann argued. He faulted cops for not pursuing that lead.
“I think they ran with the suspect in the case”—Fair—“to the exclusion of everything else.”
Abra Rice, Ullmann’s co-counsel on the case, called Ullmann a “rockstar” for his legal work.
“I’m so unbelievably happy that Tashaun is going home,” Rice said. “My heart breaks for the Dubey family’s loss,” she added. “What a lovely family.”
The crime was a rare instance of cross-racial homicide. Whether or not Fair did the crime, eyewitnesses agreed that a light-skinned black male killed their white friend. That’s not the norm in New Haven, where most shootings are black-on-black crimes. Only 7 percent of New Haven murder victims since 2003 have been white, according to the New Haven police.
Dubey’s death was also unusual, Doyle has said, because it involved a victim who wasn’t involved in street life. Dubey had a clean record; he didn’t even smoke, drink or do drugs.
Dubey’s family asked for privacy during the trial.
“Again, we’d like to state that it is a tragedy when families, friends and communities lose young people to violence. Many lives, including those of Mitchell’s friends who witnessed this terrible tragedy, will forever be effected,” the family’s statement read. “We will never forget what a wonderful son, brother and friend he was, and may his vibrant memory live on through everyone who knew him.
“Thank you again to the New Haven Police Department, as well as State’s Attorney John Doyle and everyone who worked with him day in and day out on this trial to bring justice for Mitchell. We are grateful for your hard work and kindness shown to us through the whole process.”
Previous Independent stories on the case:
• Closing Arguments Zero In On Accuser’s Motive
• Fair Testifies He Didn’t Kill Dubey
• Star Witness Describes Death Threat
• Video Reveals Police Powers Of Persuasion
• 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