Police chief sued

Published 9:57 pm Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Suffolk Police Chief Thomas Bennett is one of the defendants in a $25 million lawsuit by a Henrico County man who claims Bennett’s handling of a Newport News homicide case in 1990 resulted in his wrongful imprisonment for 22 years.

David W. Boyce was sentenced to two life terms in 1991 for the robbery and murder of his friend, Timothy Kurt Askew. Bennett was a Newport News homicide detective at the time and the lead investigator on the case.

According to the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Norfolk, Bennett failed to turn over to prosecutors a Polaroid photo — taken by police the day of the murder — that would have proven Boyce had short hair at the time of the murder, rather than the stringy, shoulder-length hair a motel clerk described as belonging to a man seen fleeing the scene.

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Askew was found dead on May 19, 1990, in a room at an Econo Lodge in Newport News. A few days before his murder, Askew had agreed to allow Boyce to stay with him at the hotel, because Boyce was having marital problems, according to the lawsuit.

However, the night of the murder, Boyce was already asleep when Askew came home. Knowing Boyce had an early work shift the next day, Askew rented a separate motel room to party with some friends. By the time a maid entered Askew’s room about 11 a.m. the next day, he was dead of multiple knife wounds. Boyce had gone to his job at a nearby restaurant.

Upon questioning him later that day, police took a Polaroid photo of Boyce, which showed him with short hair. But at his trial, Patricia Montgomery, an evidence technician, claimed he had long hair that day and must have cut it between the murder and the time of his arrest and mug shot photo five days later.

Police continued to keep the Polaroid until April 2008, saying it had been found among investigative materials related to Boyce’s case.

Furthermore, even the simple tests available at the time failed to link any biological evidence from the crime scene to Boyce. Years later, more sophisticated DNA testing confirmed that Boyce could not have contributed any of the evidence and that, in fact, some of it belonged to another unknown man.

The lawsuit also claims that police, to shore up their crumbling case, “managed to scrounge up a jail house snitch,” who described hearing Boyce confess to the crime while awaiting trial. Years later, the man recanted his testimony and said he had been “coerced and coached by the Newport News police into providing it.”

In March 2013, a federal district court judge vacated Boyce’s conviction, and a review by the Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney concluded Boyce should not be re-tried.

“As lead detective, Defendant Bennett, among other things, had primary responsibility for providing the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office with investigative materials, including all exculpatory and impeachment evidence, compiled during the criminal investigation by the Newport News Police Department,” the lawsuit reads.

Boyce has requested a jury trial and a judgment of $25 million, in addition to punitive damages, interest and court costs.

Kim Lee, a Newport News spokeswoman, said the city has no comment on the lawsuit.

Bennett did not return calls and emails seeking comment.