What to Know
- Results from new DNA testing show a mystery person’s genetic material inside a getaway van used in a violent 1997 armored car robbery
- Family members of Robert Majors, one of three men convicted of the crime, say the DNA is further evidence Majors was not present
- Majors has insisted he played no role in the armored car heist, saying he thought his brother-in-law was handing him luggage for a trip
Results from new DNA testing show a mystery person’s genetic material inside the getaway van that was used in a violent 1997 armored car robbery.
Family members of Robert Majors, one of three men convicted of the crime, say the DNA is further evidence Majors was not present when his co-defendants opened fire on two security guards in the decades-old Queens heist.
“A mystery person’s DNA was found. They had the wrong person!” said Keiana Majors, the convict's niece.
"They need to find the person whose DNA it is," said Katrina Majors, his daughter.
The DNA was found on a pair of gloves left behind in the stolen newspaper van the robbers used to speed away from the Jamaica crime scene. When the van got a flat tire, the perpetrators were forced to take off on foot, hopping onto a public bus with tens of thousands of dollars in stolen cash.
Investigators initially traced fingerprints in the van back to Aaron Boone, who was Robert Majors’ brother-in-law. A day after the heist, while watching Boone’s house, police spotted Boone give Majors a bag of guns used in the ambush. That’s when they arrested both men. About a week later, a police informant led detectives to a third suspect, Bernard Johnson.
Majors has always insisted he played no role in the previous day’s armored car robbery. He told the I-Team he thought his brother-in-law was handing him luggage for a train trip.
“I didn’t think he would give me a bag of guns," Majors said in an interview behind prison walls.
Thomas Hoffman, the attorney for Majors, said the new DNA evidence lends credence to Majors' original story - that he was never at the crime scene and never inside the getaway van.
"Mr. Majors has always contended he was not the third person in that van." Hoffman said. "We believe it is important that there was a third person inside that van who wore gloves that was not Mr. Majors."
Although the DNA in the get-away van does not match Majors, Boone, or Johnson, the Office of the Queens District Attorney stressed the DNA might belong to someone who wore the gloves months or years before the crime.
"These gloves may have been touched by others, innocently, " said Robert Masters, the Queens Executive Assistant District Attorney. "The DNA was removed from this van. It was a van that had been stolen earlier that day. It was a van that had been used to deliver newspapers."
In court papers opposing Majors' appeal, the Queens District Attorney's Office also said Majors failed a polygraph test when he denied involvement in the crime.
For months, Majors has been pleading with Judge John Latella to re-open his case. He contends prosecutors violated Constitutional protections when they failed to hand over key exculpatory evidence - an informant's statement that correctly named Boone and Johnson as the robbers but - mentioned a man named "Rasheed" as the third suspect.
Masters said a review of records around the trial suggests the statement naming "Rasheed" was turned over by prosecutors. In court papers opposing Majors' appeal, the DA's Office included a sworn 2000 affidavit from Majors in which he said "I was taken to the District Attorney's Office and questioned repeatedly about that third person they never apprehended. They were informed about this third person by someone named Kevin McKinney."
Kevin McKinney was the informant who led police to Bernard Johnson and wrote the statement naming "Rasheed."
Masters said the fact that Majors was aware of McKinney's name before he was convicted, suggests his lawyers had access to the informant's written statement.
"At this point there's nothing hidden," Masters said.
But Hoffman said being aware of an informant's name is far different from being aware that detectives had the name of a possible alternate suspect.
"When they learned that a third person named Rasheed was a part of the crime that was committed, they took absolutely no steps to follow up on that lead."
Next month, Judge Latella is scheduled to hear testimony from attorneys for Majors, Boone, and Johnson. All of whom have filed sworn affidavits denying they were ever given the statement naming "Rasheed." After the hearing, Latella will decide whether Majors was denied a fair trial.
"He believes that he's going to come home because he knows that he's innocent," said Keiana Majors. "Just think about his family and the people that love him and know that he's innocent."