New York

I-Team: New Witnesses Say Minister's Son ‘Is too Big' to Be 2014 Park Shooter

The case of 29-year-old Ajaya Neale raises an issue that has critics demanding changes in New York’s discovery law, which some have labeled the “blindfold law”

What to Know

  • 29 year-old Ajaya Neale, is accused of gunning down alleged gang member Joel Rashko, Jr. in Roy Wilkins park in Jamaica in May of 2014
  • Neale says the DA's office hasn't turned over crucial evidence, making it impossible for him to properly defend himself
  • New witnesses came forward to the I-Team, saying Neale is too large to be the killer.

New witnesses have come forward in a three and a half year-old murder case against a minister’s son in Queens.

Ajaya Neale, a minister’s son, is still awaiting trial for a shooting in a Jamaica park in May of 2014.

A man who says he was in the park and witnessed the shooting told the I-Team in a recent interview that the shooter looked completely different than Neale, whom he knows from the neighborhood.

"Ajaya is too big to be the shooter," 25-year-old Unique Branch said. "Ajaya is like a refrigerator on legs."

He described the shooter as "5'9, 5’10, slim build. He had a blue bandanna on his face, gray basketball shorts.”

Neale, a former city Department of Transportation inspector, was arrested for the shooting in July of 2014. He was later released on $100,000 bail after a prosecutor with the DA’s office acknowledged in court that two unidentified witnesses initially picked out other suspects in a lineup. The DA’s office has said Neale is a violent gang leader who gunned down a rival.

Manuel Gomez, a private investigator hired by the Neale family several months ago, obtained video and written statements from other witnesses who said Neale was on his block at the time of the shooting. He has maintained his innocence from the beginning.

Another witness, now living in North Carolina, told the I-Team in a phone interview she saw the shooting and was later steered by a detective to pick Neale out of a photo array, even though she wasn’t positive he was the gunman.

"They did tell me that the murderer was there, and so then he slipped me the paper immediately," she said. "I went and looked at the bottom row where he was looking and picked from there. I did choose three gentlemen but they only had me sign off on one photo ID."

She described the shooter as "medium build" and about “‘5-foot-10.” Neale is almost 6 feet, 1 inches tall and weighs more than 275 pounds.

The North Carolina woman also said the lead prosecutor told her that she had to testify or a warrant would be put out for her arrest.

"I feel like any person that I identified or anyone else identified should have been investigated," she said. "I don’t want to put anyone away in jail that didn’t kill anybody or doesn’t belong in jail."

It is unclear whether the prosecution will still call her as a witness.

Branch said he is willing to testify for the defense.

"I don’t want to see an innocent man go to jail for something he didn’t do,” he said, “That’s just not right.”

The DA’s office said it will try the case in court. Both the DA’s office and NYPD declined to comment about specific allegations about conduct.

No trial date has been set. Neale is due back in court on Dec. 4.

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