Unfair Fate

One murder, two families, and three decades in search of justice

Diana Newton Wood, Daryl Whitley and John Chase Wood, Jr.
(Photo montage by Lisa Riordan Seville)

THE DAY AFTER John Chase Wood Jr.’s 31st birthday, his wife woke up feeling ill.

Diana Newton Wood was newly married, madly in love and almost a mother, but the first five months of her pregnancy had been difficult. She was often sick, and she spent every third night alone, with only the dogs and John’s French horns for company, while her husband worked his 36-hour shifts as a resident at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.

That day, November 2, 1981, was one in which ordinary troubles seemed too much to bear. A man shouted at Diana in the elevator at the hospital where she worked as a nurse. Construction snarled her ride home down the Henry Hudson Parkway on Manhattan’s West Side. When she opened the door to the apartment at 159-00 Riverside Drive that afternoon, she found that Molly, one of two strays John had taken in, had nosed her way into a cabinet and covered the floors in dried egg noodles.

Though Diana came from New England stock, people who spent carefully and weathered cold winters with a set jaw, that day shook her. She called John in tears. His soothing words did not comfort her. He said he would come home.

He stepped out of the hospital for the last time into the mild autumn night, wearing his white doctor’s coat.

• • •

“An almost perfect person”
November 2, 1981, 7:30 p.m.

Though John Chase Wood came into his looks late, by 31 he was the catch of the hospital. Behind the thick mustache was a Renaissance man. People would recall particular qualities when they began to speak of him in the past tense: how gently he threaded the IV into the narrow vein of a child, his mastery of the French horn, his wry humor. Later someone would describe him as “an almost perfect person.”

Five months dating, five months engaged, he and Diana were now five months married. Their courtship had been a fairy tale told in a 14-bed ward. As the story would go, they met “over the stumps of Clarence Hightower.” Diana remembers John coaxing her, then a 23-year-old nurses’ aide, to help him irrigate the wounds of the double amputee.

Marriage came not long after, at the parish church in Sudbury, Massachusetts, where Diana’s mother worshiped. A quartet of John’s friends played chamber music at the reception at her grandparents’ house where years later she would come to live.

Plans had been laid. Raised in a home with a mudroom and a cookie jar, John wanted nothing more than a big family and a drafty old house. At 24, Diana was not quite ready for marriage, for a child, for the stay-at-home motherhood she thought life very well might bring. But John was, and it was John she wanted most. When John was done with his pediatric surgery residency in New York City, they decided they would leave the apartment on Riverside Drive and take their young family to a house in the suburbs.

John walked through the door and settle on the edge of the bed beside his young wife with the soft brown hair and the round belly. With her husband close, Diana felt herself settle back into kilter. About 8:45 p.m., he plucked a can of Coca-Cola from the kitchen and left to finish his shift. She tucked in. M*A*S*H was almost on.

• • •

“I’m going to put your lights out”
November 2, 1981, 8:45 p.m.

His white coat billowed in the breeze on Riverside Drive. Though the light was bad, and the night was dark and it was New York City in the early 1980s, John chose the near-abandoned street on the edge of the city for his short stroll back to the hospital. He liked to walk beneath the trees.

Dorothy Howze was pushing her baby girl in her carriage when she saw two men come up behind the doctor, brushing close. Young, they looked to her, young and dark. At first she thought they knew the man. Then the voices got louder. They began to pat the doctor down. They asked for money. They asked for pills. One slapped the doctor’s face. “You give me something or I’m going to put your lights out,” she heard him say.

Howze saw the movement first, the twirling object that solidified into a silver .22 revolver. Two shots fired.

John Wood stumbled out toward the street as the men dissolved into the night. He fell as he reached the road, his body splayed into the street. Blood seeped through the white fabric of his coat. Howze wheeled the carriage over to him. His eyes widened and rolled back. She reached down to hold his head, and began to scream.

• • •

“Youth and rage and guns”
November 4-6, 1981

Surgeon’s Slaying Stuns Upper West Side sprawled across page B1 of The New York Times on November 4. Of the 573 murders in Manhattan in 1981, that of Dr. John Chase Wood, a white man killed by strangers on the street, was an outlier. Most of the victims whose deaths put Manhattan’s murder rate among the nation’s highest were young, black or brown, and knew their killer. In the wake of white flight, after the Bronx had burned and Harlem’s abandoned buildings all around Columbia Presbyterian Hospital winked their empty windows, the Wood murder carried a particular resonance.

The papers returned to the story day after day to make the point that the .22-caliber bullet had not pierced just the heart of a man, or a family. It shot through Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, penetrating an institution.

Five hundred mourners gathered in the plain white church in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, on November 6, where the minister called the killing an act of “youth and rage and guns.” Many in the pews were John’s colleagues who had arrived that morning on charter buses, the memory still fresh of opening their friend’s chest to try to pump the life back in.

New York City joined their outrage. On the evening of November 6, thousands read in The Times the words of Dr. Michael Katz, the head of pediatrics at Presbyterian: “I know that when my anger subsides, when my irrational need for revenge passes, my thoughts of John will be joyous,” he said. “I will remember him for his humanity, his whimsy, his self-directed humor and for his music. But for now, I am enraged.”

Diana was there to listen to the eulogy, but her rage burned more privately—at the neighborhood, at her fate, at John. “John, whether it was intentional or not, abandoned Johnny, and me,” she remembered years later. “And how could you ever say that? Because it wasn’t his intention. But yet it did happen.”

Why not just give them the five dollars that you had? she would ask her absent husband. He would for months remain as real to her as the scene on Riverside Drive that revolved in her mind—the white coat, the young men, the silver gun, her husband’s refusal.

She could hear him saying “No.” It was in character. She could hear him saying “No, I don’t think so,” in his matter-of-fact way.

As the service ended and the casket came out, she knew cameras would be waiting. On the church steps, she balled her fist and closed her eyes. Shutters flapped in unison. The image in the evening paper on November 6, 1981, shows the young widow in a high-collared shirt with a dark smock over her rounded belly, eyes shut tight against a world trying to take her in.

• • •

“I try to remember”
December 1981 and Later

In the year that followed the killing, Diana lived with the illusions that often follow sudden death. Their life together had been so brief, and she had often spent nights alone while he was on call. “I could almost pretend that he was just away for the evening,” she said. Diana pressed on with the life they had talked about living. In the New Year, she moved to the suburbs, to a little two-story house on a quiet street in Teaneck, New Jersey.

With time, the meaning of murder would shift. The hospital, ever resilient, forged on. In her way, Diana did too. A few years later she would enroll in the medical school, joining the young students who still came to Columbia looking for opportunity, thinking that to become a doctor would give her something nobody could take away.

Near the first anniversary of John’s death, Diana opened her door to a columnist from The Times. The reporter had an eye for detail: She related an image of the son, John III, 5 months old and just cutting teeth, padding on the oriental carpet in an aqua romper. Diana, the mother, brown hair twisted up into a messy bun, looking impossibly young, in “the fashion of the times.”

The story about a murder that sent shivers through an institution had become a family affair. Diana was the keeper of her husband’s story. “I try to remember John,” Diana told The Times. “I keep him in my mind. If I forget John, he dies again, only this time it’s my fault.”

Calls from the NYPD, already rare, had stopped by November 1983, when, on the second anniversary of John’s death, Diana penned a piece that ran in U.S. News & World Report. “Unfair fate,” she wrote. She saw justice as a series of compromises. “The only way the police are going to find them is if someone looking to plea-bargain says, ‘If you give me a break, I’ll tell you who killed the surgeon.’ John’s death will be a bargaining chip in the criminal justice system.”

Diana boxed up her grief somewhere hard to find, and moved on. She did not know how right she would be.

• • •

“Big Daddy Uptown”
December 10, 1981 – February 1982

In the early days, Detective Gennaro Giorgio was one of dozens of police officers assigned to investigate the killing of Dr. John Chase Wood Jr. If one were to cast him, Jerry Giorgio would play the good cop. A big man with a round belly and a soft face, Giorgio already had two decades on the force, a nickname—“Big Daddy Uptown”—and a reputation as a third-degree man.” He could pull a tale out of a suspect like string, the story went, then knot him in it.

Giorgio believed in the human impulse to spin yarns. “Everybody down deep wants to tell his or her story,” he would tell a reporter years later. “It’s true. No matter how damaging it is to them, no matter how important it is for them to keep quiet, they want to tell their story.”

“If you give them half a reason to do it, they’ll tell you everything.”

For years after John Wood’s death, Giorgio carried case No. 1744 in a briefcase, along with other cases gone cold. Mug shots of suspects in the Wood case, which he called his “hit parade,” he kept tucked in his steno book. It was Giorgio’s drive that would turn a forgotten robbery gone wrong into a Manhattan murder mystery.

There were other suspects, but from early on, Patrick Raynard McDowell was number one in Giorgio’s hit parade. McDowell was 17 years old when Wood was shot. He and another neighborhood kid, 19-year-old Daryl Whitley, had been questioned in the Wood case, along with nearly every other young black kid in west Harlem. Police had done a catch and release, hoping someone they pulled in knew something he could be persuaded to tell. In December 1981, a month after Wood’s death, McDowell and Whitley found themselves at the center of Giorgio’s attention.

Daryl had a way of finding himself places, like the night he drank himself numb and wandered onto the autobahn, hoping to meet a car that wouldn’t swerve.

If Giorgio was obsessed with the case, Daryl Whitley was about to be engulfed by it. Whitley had recently returned from an Army base in Germany. Enlisting had seemed an opportunity, but abroad he felt isolated and strange. The best part was visiting the lot at a Mercedes dealer, where he would imagine his wide, gummy smile reflected in the rear-view mirror of that shiny burgundy Benz.

Daryl had a way of finding himself places, like the night he drank himself numb and wandered onto the autobahn, hoping to meet a car that wouldn’t swerve. Somehow every driver missed. He ended the night pissing on the floor of the barracks. That, on top of a history of fights and mouthing off to higher-ups, bought him a discharge and a ticket home. The neighborhood that welcomed him back was one where young men rolled through Harlem in cars hot as fish grease, trying to impress women and each other, small timers in an era when it was easy to play American gangster.

On December 10, 1981, Daryl and McDowell, who was known by family as Raynard and by friends as “Toast,” stepped into somebody’s milky white, big-bodied Mercedes Benz and took a ride.

Reginald Stephen, the third man in the car that night, was known to walk the neighborhood carrying a boom box big enough to put Radio Raheem’s to shame. As they cruised south, the smooth, graceful speed of the German automobile seduced Daryl. It felt good. They cruised the white Benz from Harlem to a tony apartment building on the Upper East Side where Sylvia Killian, a 40-something British showgirl, was making her way from limo to lobby.

Daryl waited outside. The other two walked in. Reg and Raynard went to rob somebody, but they ended up shooting. The papers ate up the story of the former Playboy bunny killed in the early morning heist.

By February 1982, the trio was in prison in connection with the robbery and shooting. A robbery that ended in death these days would be called felony murder, but things were different then. McDowell got eight to 16 for manslaughter. Stephen got a six-year sentence. Whitley, who most thought was just along for the ride, got off lighter: two to seven.

To Jerry Giorgio, Killian’s death looked too much like the Wood killing, a little more than a month earlier, to be coincidence. Years would not dull that suspicion. For more than a decade, Giorgio would call in familiar faces and some new ones, leaning on them to see what clues might slide out. Arrest was opportunity for many in the neighborhood, and because the right words could turn a cuffed man free, information flowed loosely and in several directions.

• • •

“I can get you out of this trouble”
February 1984

Neither Jerry Giorgio nor Bernard Barnes, another Harlem local who would later testify against Whitley, could remember years later the exact details of how they came to be sitting across from one another in the 34th precinct in February 1984. Could have been Barnes was pulled in a crack arrest. Could have just been a strong suggestion from Giorgio that they chat. Barnes knew the detective from around the way. Barnes regularly traded tips for favors, present or future, which is how he would come to remember his talk with Giorgio that day.

“He was telling me, I can get you out of this trouble if you give me this information,” Barnes told a Grand Jury in 1995. “So, that’s when I went along with the program.” Giorgio handed Barnes a pen and told him to write down what he knew.

“I went visit Daryl Whitley at Rikers Island and he was talking,” Barnes wrote about a visit when Daryl was locked up for the Killian murder. “And then he stared talking about a robbery that him, and Patrick, and Richard went on, in which it was the doctor’s case. And he said, Patrick had a gun, and they robbed the doctor. The doctor put up a struggle, and they killed the doctor.”

Giorgio would later describe the investigation as a jigsaw puzzle, but it looked more like a line of dominoes. “Leverage is the key,” Giorgio would say. Barnes was the first bit of pressure meant to make the tiles topple at Patrick Raynard McDowell’s feet.

• • •

Fact and fiction
March 1984

Giorgio traveled 200 miles north to Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility in upstate New York. The middle-aged Italian detective settled into an uncomfortable chair in a cinderblock room. Daryl Whitley, then 20 and in his second year of prison life, sat across. “He was up there fishing,” Daryl recalled, “looking for information.” Raynard was the one Giorgio was after. Daryl was a pawn, and he knew it.

Giorgio read Daryl his Miranda warnings from a small standard-issue card. Daryl told Giorgio he was not on Riverside Drive that night. He didn’t do the doctor. Daryl had heard about it, of course, everyone had heard about the doctor killed on November 10, 1981. Giorgio took down what Daryl said. The date was wrong, but “I didn’t try to get him to change it,” Giorgio later explained. Both fact and fiction have their place.

Giorgio told Daryl that people were saying he was with Raynard and another guy named Richard the night the doctor was killed.

“You should go and talk to them,” Daryl told him.

“I’ll try to talk to them,” said Giorgio. “But I’m here to talk to you.”

Whatever story Giorgio wanted to hear, Daryl didn’t tell. But the talk had nudged open the door. Giorgio returned to New York and added the notes from the interview to his files, which would eventually grow to fill a line of cardboard boxes stamped “City of New York Police Department.” He shuffled case documents like playing cards, hoping one day to pull a trump.

• • •

“You got a girl?”
1984 – 1989

Time passed. Raynard continued to serve out his 10-year sentence for the Killian shooting. Daryl walked out of prison after 30 months. He was 21, with only a spotty army stint and a knack for hot-wiring cars to recommend him. Within a year, he was arrested for selling $20 worth of crack to an undercover police officer.

Daryl was always one to play the odds. He rarely played them well. Rather than taking a plea, he took the crack case to trial. The judge handed him a heavy sentence: four to nine years. It was the late ’80s and he was already back at McGregor Prison. This time he landed a gig mopping the prison catwalks, $6 every two weeks.

“You got a girl?” he said a fellow prisoner asked him one day as he wiped the slick floor clean.

Daryl said he didn’t.

“I’m gonna hook you up with Tammy,” the man told him. “She’s a good girl.”

In prison, a girl is more than just a girl. New York is one of the few states that still allow conjugal visits, so finding the right woman, then marrying her, can mean companionship, letters, commissary money and a couple of trips to the trailers each year, a weekend illusion of life on the outside. Every now and then, it means love.

At first, Daryl and Tammy wrote letters. Daryl was by that time at Wende Correctional Facility, far north in Erie County. Tammy Futch made the seven-hour trip upstate with a friend, to one of the festivals the prison sometimes held for inmates and families. Daryl, by now in his late 20s, was a gentleman. Tammy lost her shoe going into the bounce house. He picked it up and slipped it on her foot. When she got back to Paterson Houses in the Bronx, she sent him $50 for his commissary and a picture of herself in a bathing suit, a medallion shining around her neck. “Once a woman choose you, that’s it,” Daryl says. “Tammy chose.”

They married on March 4, 1989. “It’s not much of a love story,” Tammy told a Daily News reporter years later, “but it’s all I got.”

• • •

A man to share a long life with
The 1990s

Diana Newton Wood also found a modern love story. For 13 years, she had lived in a depression she barely registered. Columbia Medical School had waived tuition when she enrolled there. Ambition had done the rest. In 1988 she moved back to Massachusetts, where she became an anesthesiologist. Her family helped to care for Johnny while she did her rounds at the Brigham, the hospital where her father and grandfather had also been residents. By 1994, she was 37 years old, and practiced in the art of numbing pain.

Family, work and long rounds at the hospital left little time for grief. Time had taken care of much of Diana’s anger, but she saw a legacy of loss in her son. John wanted siblings desperately. Diana was also ready for a fuller family. “I didn’t want to marry someone I was madly in love with,” said Diana. Instead, she wanted a man to share a long life with, an experience wholly apart from the abrupt ending handed to her a decade before.

Diana’s first marriage had been born in a hospital ward. Her second began in AOL’s New Member Lounge. Over a dial-up modem, Diana began talking with Gregg Dunphy, a computer programmer in Michigan. Both were ready to pave over the past and begin anew.

In New York, Daryl was coming up for parole. Tammy was already a mother of two. And in Pennsylvania, a Harlem drug dealer named Glenn Richardson had just signed a plea agreement that would shape all of their lives.

• • •

“The detective is very eager”
Spring 1994

Richardson was Jerry Giorgio’s big break.

By May 10, 1994, when Giorgio walked into the federal building in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, “Big Daddy” had become his own brand of celebrity. He had parlayed his reputation into a regular consulting gig on Law & Order, earning a seat around the table at Elaine’s restaurant with New York’s toughest TV cops. He brought with him an insider view and war stories. Successes chronicled by the press over the years featured hypnotists, psychics, lost fingerprints, all characters in a story about how Jerry Giorgio had cracked the coldest of cases. The Wood case was the one he had worked the longest. This one he could taste.

On the 11th floor of the federal building, a flat façade reflecting the city like a trooper’s mirrored shades, Giorgio met Richardson, then a resident of Allenwood Penitentiary, a federal prison camp in Pennsylvania.

Richardson grew up on 152nd Street in Harlem. Like most of the people who would come to testify in the trials of Patrick Raynard McDowell and Daryl Whitley, he knew the men from the block. In the ’80s, when more legitimate businesses were trying to uplift Harlem through urban renewal, Richardson was buying cocaine, cutting it with an adulterant, and peddling it on Harlem corners. He built his business, hiring a couple of workers and expanding operations to Pennsylvania, just about the time federal authorities moved in and slapped him with 20 to life for drug conspiracy. But that was negotiable.

“Many are called, but few are chosen,” the U.S. Attorney said at Richardson’s sentencing. Richardson was one of the chosen. His sentenced was reduced to 75 months. The feds would later use him as an expert witness in the art of dealing. He also agreed to cooperate with “any and all agencies, local, federal and state.”

Giorgio told Richardson he was working on a case, a high profile case with a lot of press—one that involved a young doctor. The detective made clear that failure to remember answers to questions could cost Richardson his government deal. “This detective is very eager to solve this case,” Richardson wrote in a letter to a judge a few weeks later. “I assured him I wanted to help, but after 13 years I didn’t think I would be able to recall much on such short notice.”

He said that Giorgio helped him recall how me met Raynard on the stairway of the apartment on 152nd Street and loaned him a .22-caliber pistol. Richardson went looking for it back, but Raynard, he testified later, “said he had used it, and couldn’t return it to me.”

Richardson then said he went looking to see if Daryl knew anything about the gun. Daryl, he said, asked if he had heard about the doctor. “He got silent after that,” Richardson told a jury in 1997. Daryl seemed to implicate Raynard in the killing, Richardson testified, recounting how Daryl “told me in Pig Latin, ‘He didn’t have to do that.’”

Justice in the killing of John Chase Wood Jr. would come to be defined, and redefined, by what Daryl Whitley did and did not say, in English, in silence and in Pig Latin.

• • •

“They caught your father’s killers”
1994 – 1995

On July 29, 1994, John III was at camp and Diana Newton Wood was in a cabin on Cape Cod, where her family spent time each summer. For the first time, Gregg was there with her. On that Friday, Diana walked out onto the porch of the cabin, the salty sea not far off, and called back a number she did not recognize. It was The New York Times.

News stories of the time tell how Giorgio had called her a few days earlier when Raynard McDowell was arrested, but in her memory The Times gave her the news first.

“Oh yes, we will go to the trial,” she told the paper. “All of us will, not only to give us some closure to this very traumatic event, but to make people realize that we have not faded into the woodwork—that this event changed all of our lives.”

Giorgio and the story of the doctor killed in the night would appear in The Times, the Associated Press, on Eye to Eye and A Current Affair. The prospect of solving a senseless New York murder sounded a rare hopeful note in a crime wave that seemed never to end. America has always had a taste for a good crime story, and as the murder rate soared in the early 1990s, the national appetite craved one with a happy ending—a crime solved, criminals arrested, and victory for Jerry Giorgio, the dogged detective with a nose for guilt and a heart of gold.

“You plan on getting the conviction on this one?” the Eye to Eye correspondent asked Detective Giorgio.

“Oh, absolutely,” he said. “Absolutely.”

Diana spoke to every person who called. It was her effort to keep John’s memory alive, and to show that cinematic tragedy happens not to characters but to “people, individual people.”

America has always had a taste for a good crime story, and as the murder rate soared in the early 1990s, the national appetite craved one with a happy ending.

But her words were often fraught. “Did I experience a sense of justice or vengeance?” Diana said when the reporter asked about the arrests. “No, not really, but I think our son, Johnny, must have had some thoughts of that kind.”

The arrests brought the prospect of justice, but the family found itself living under the weight of a story, and the memory of an almost perfect man long dead.

“When John was killed I was 24 years old and pregnant,” she told The Times when a reporter called again in January 1995. “I could not think too much about what had happened. I had Johnny to think of. I do not think I really grieved. It was like that Emily Dickinson poem that says, ‘After a great pain a formal healing comes.’”

But to John Chase Wood Jr.’s 13-year-old son, the arrests were a beginning rather than an end. When he remembers that time now, it feels like all of life changed in a blur. It seems his mother said all at once, “They caught your father’s killers,” and “I’m getting remarried.”

John III remembers vividly the day in late 1994 when Eye to Eye came to Weston, Massachusetts. “All of the sudden there was this huge explosion,” John said. ”It became real for me.”

Cameramen carried the heavy equipment into the Woods’ living room. John watched them fiddle with the camera focus. Shots of their town, their home, the photograph of John Chase Wood Jr. over Johnny’s bed would flicker over the television screen when the segment aired the following January.

At first, the buzz felt like fun and games. “Then afterwards,” John said, “I realized it wasn’t.”

“My father had been dead my entire life, and it was almost easier not knowing what had happened, only having bits and pieces of information,” he said. “When this all happened I started to learn about what had really transpired and the media circus that it was, and I didn’t want to be a part of that. I didn’t want to go to the trials, I didn’t want to see these people.”

“And so, I didn’t.”

• • •

“Why do you keep coming to me?”
March 1995

In December 1994, after completing his sentence for selling crack, Daryl Whitley went down to stay with his father in North Carolina. At age 32, Daryl had by then spent more than a decade of his adult life behind bars. He was a father of two, Daryl Jr. and Darylnique, then just a year old. Giorgio got a call from parole that winter saying Whitely, who had moved up to the top of the detective’s hit parade, had been pulled into custody in North Carolina for a traffic violation. Police found marijuana in the car, and ran Whitley’s name, and found he was a parolee. They called up north. Giorgio flew south. In the Wake County jail, the detective pressed Daryl again. Giorgio “just had it in for Raynard,” Daryl remembered. Daryl told the detective again he was not there that night in 1981. Giorgio took Daryl, free less than a year, back to New York, and to prison, for violating his parole.

On March 23, 1995, five days after Diana Newton Wood married Gregg K. Dunphy, Giorgio sat down across from Daryl in another cinderblock room, this one at Downstate Correctional Facility in Fishkill, New York. Giorgio lit a cigarette. “Officer,” Whitley remembers a guard saying, “you can’t smoke in here.”

Giorgio told Daryl he had a strong case against Raynard. “If you have Raynard,” Daryl said, ”why do you keep coming to me?”

Giorgio kept coming because the case was spotty. He needed more. He had no physical evidence, no eyewitnesses, no priests or saints or “upstanding” citizens upon which to build his case. He had stories, stories from people who had more incentive to tell them than not. A veteran snitch. A career burglar. A lifelong addict. All had criminal records, all had questionable intentions, all had reasons to testify, even those who no longer wanted to, including the one who refused, and spent 30 days in jail for contempt. Giorgio had, of course, Glenn Richardson, but the District Attorney had doubts.

Daryl could make the case, and the detective thought that Daryl, given the other robbery he had committed with Raynard and his general trouble with the law, had reason to roll. Then Giorgio would have Patrick Raynard McDowell, the man he was convinced had pulled the trigger.

During more than a decade already spent in prison, Daryl had earned his GED and an education in the criminal justice system. He told the detective he was not there that night in November 1981. He let Giorgio know he knew the detective was fishing.

“You don’t have no case against Raynard,” Daryl told Giorgio. “The only way you’re gonna get Raynard is through me.”

To Giorgio, that sounded like a tacit confession, an admission that Daryl could give him Raynard. Daryl would say later it was nothing of the kind. In neat cap letters, Giorgio laid the comment down on the three-page statement. As the detective got up to leave, he asked Daryl what he had heard on the street, almost 14 years ago. “The whole neighborhood was saying Raynard did it,” Daryl answered.

But some evidence pointed at Daryl, as well. In a Manhattan courtroom on March 30, 1995, Giorgio’s years of work led to the indictment of Daryl Whitley for second-degree felony murder in the death of Dr. John Chase Wood, Jr. Daryl packed up his cell and moved to Rikers Island in New York City.

• • •

An element of tragicomedy
April 1995 – February 2002

At the Criminal Court downtown on Center Street, Giorgio’s case against Raynard McDowell fared worse than it had in the news. Deadlocked Jury Forces Mistrial in Doc Slay Case, the Daily News reported on November 28, 1996. The jury acquitted McDowell of a charge of intentionally killing Wood, but deadlocked on whether he may have shot him while committing a robbery. A year later, after McDowell’s second trial, the tabloid told the world that Again, A Jury Acquits Doc Slay Suspect. In the end, neither jury found the evidence—the testimony of a tentative eyewitness and two others with criminal records—convincing. Giorgio had spent more than 16 years building his case against Raynard. On December 17, 1997, the suspect walked out of the courtroom a free man. Double jeopardy protected Raynard from ever again facing charges in the Wood murder.

Daryl lived almost three years at Rikers Island before his case came to trial. His daughter, Darylnique, who had inherited her father’s face along with his name, would by the age of 3 recognize the bus that ferried families to the infamous city jail.

Daryl’s first trial also hung. On December 3, 1997, the jury handed down a note that it was hopelessly deadlocked. It took four years to schedule a new trial. On January 24, 2002, an article in The New York Times announced: New Murder Trial Begins in 1981 Killing of Doctor.

The 2002 case was still built on the suspect stories, and in the intervening years Giorgio and the Manhattan District Attorney had added to the witness list a few more incarcerated men who said Daryl had told them he was involved in the killing. The trial carried an element of tragicomedy. Bernard Barnes, the snitch who told Giorgio he had talked to Daryl about the murder on a visit to Rikers, served 30 days for contempt when he refused to testify at Daryl’s first trial. He took the stand in the second. Like all those who testified against Daryl, Barnes was grilled by the defense on his long history of drugs and crime and unfortunate circumstances. Over the years, each of these witnesses had received favors from the police or District Attorney, some tangible—$1,100 and a stay at the Holiday Inn—some less so. Each man who recounted these favors added that drugs, prior crimes and incentives to talk did not mean that what they said was not true.

Glenn Richardson was not among those who took the stand at the second trial. In 2002, he was out of the Pennsylvania prison and off parole. When subpoenaed to testify before the court, he took the Fifth.

In his absence, the judge ruled the prosecution could use Richardson’s testimony from the 1997 trial. The scene was one of the peculiarities of the courtroom, the place where the jurors are asked to leave their baggage at the door, suspend disbelief and form no opinions until the moment of deliberations. Two employees of the Manhattan District Attorney’s office played the parts of Richardson and the lawyers, first the DA, then the defense attorney. “You are not to speculate on the reasons why this witness is not here testifying before you,” Judge Laura Drager told the jury. “You are only to know that the court has determined it is appropriate for you to hear this evidence in this way.”

In the two days of deliberations, the jury sent out notes every few hours. At 4:05 p.m. on the second day, they asked to hear again Giorgio’s testimony on his conversations with Daryl Whitely. One hour and ten minutes later, they reached a verdict.

Guilty as charged.

• • •

“It just is not fair”
April 18, 2002

At the sentencing on the sixth-floor courtroom in lower Manhattan, Diana Newton Wood sat on the bench next to Whitley’s daughter Darylnique, then 8 years old. Daryl Jr., then 11, was there too, near his mother Tammy.

John’s father, Dr. John Chase Wood Sr., spoke first. Diana rarely saw him anymore. The intensely private Wood family had kept their grief quiet, but a father’s anger and tears rippled through the courtroom that day. “Let me suggest to you that a terrorist from within, rotten apples in our own mix, permitted to fester and contaminate, pose a greater danger to our to nation, to us, over time, than do foreign terrorists,” the father told the court. “Thus, all the considerable efforts by the People to achieve justice in the murder of a single individual are, at the end of the day, worth it.”

Diana gave her statement next. She stood before the courtroom and talked about a different kind of injustice. “My entire second marriage has been colored, over-shadowed by this trial, and re-trial, and Grand Jury, and now this, which has gone for seven years or more,” she said. “And it just is not fair; it’s not fair to my family.”

“There were times when I wished Jerry Giorgio had not been so dogged in his pursuit, because having to come and face this every time has been very, very hard,” she said. “It’s very hard to see your family here, Daryl, because I don’t want to deprive them of what my son has been deprived of forever. Thank you.”

Daryl Whitley was the last to speak. He too spoke of justice. “Counsel told me not to say nothing,” he said. “I’m going to be honest with you. I’ve been judged by man here today. I look forward for the day to be judged by God about this case. That’s all I got to say.”

Then Judge Drager sentenced Daryl Whitley to 22 years to life.

• • •

“Did you hear?”
October 2010, Dutchess County, New York

The visiting room at New York’s Green Haven Correctional Facility is true to its name. The counter that separates an inmate from his family is green. The walls are green. Much of the furniture is green. This maximum-security facility is an honors prison, which does not preclude the men inside from turning one another to pulp over a pack of cigarettes. But it is, as New York prisons go, close to the city, offering inmates who behave well more opportunity to see their families. Soft mesh cribs line the walls, ready for babies who come to see fathers, grandfathers and brothers.

In this visiting room, Daryl had for eight years watched his children grow, their visits melting into the dramas that well up daily in the visiting room.

On a fall day in 2010, the smell of microwaved popcorn mingled in air heavy with gossip and Bible study. Coins slapped the plastic grid of a Connect Four game and a young woman in turquoise velour languidly made out with her man, each sitting on their side of freedom.

Daryl sat in the cinderblock room reserved for meetings between clients and their attorneys, or inmates and the police. He recalled the day last July that seemed to change his fate.

He had just settled down into his cell when another inmate in his block leaned in. News travels fast behind bars, where terms like appeal and DNA and ineffective counsel fly like the kites passed from cell to cell. The words Habeas Corpus, the writ that comes at the end of the appeals process, and is the final hope of an imprisoned man, are treated with reverence.
“Did you hear?” the man asked Whitley. “Your Great Writ was granted.”

• • •

“A shattered-lives situation”
October 2010, Sudbury, Massachusetts

Diana sat curled on the couch of the house in Sudbury, Massachusetts. Leaves throughout the 400 acres of woods buffering the house had turned, a lush ring of color that kept the sounds of the outside world at bay. She now lived in the home where she and John had celebrated their wedding in 1981. This house held her past and her present, and here they did not often talk of the night that shaped this life—the night her first husband was killed.

It seemed like a long time ago. “I just don’t have that many conscious memories of him,” she said. “It’s become more the story.”

Diana opened a red leatherette scrapbook on the coffee table, smoothing down a page. Her hair was short now, and while her glasses perched on the same round nose, bits of worry around her mouth showed that almost 30 years had passed. She ran a hand over the headline: Surgeon’s Slaying Stuns Upper West Side. Newspaper clippings she had gathered told a tale three decades long, much of it clipped from Diana’s mind. She had not yet had a chance to add the last one: Judge Tosses Out Conviction in 1981 Cold-Blooded Murder of Young Doctor John Chase Wood.

A reporter for the Daily News called the house in late July, nearly 15 years to the day after the news of the arrest, to tell Diana that Daryl Whitley’s conviction had been overturned. The news peeled back time. But shock had eased in the intervening months. “It doesn’t matter so much to me personally what happens with Daryl Whitley,” said Diana. “That’s not even the most important part of this story.”

The story, for Diana, was simpler. Closer to home. “John is gone.”

“He didn’t get to have his life,” she said. “The things that he wanted most—his children, and his grandchildren—he didn’t get to experience.”

A gurgle came from her grandson, John Chase Wood IV. Big for 10 months, he roamed the carpet, gumming a red wooden race car. His father, seated in a nearby chair, unfolded one lanky arm to pluck the car from his son’s mouth. John III, now 28 and 6 foot 2, looked very much like his mother. He was a living measure of the time that had passed.

It did not pass smoothly. Each November through his teens brought crippling depression. John III failed out of the local high school and finished his schooling at home. And it was at home he built his life, a second father to his two younger brothers, who, until his own son was born, were the most important thing in his life. He spoke carefully and well, and carried a passionate belief in the death penalty. But after years of living as “the son of a saint,” he had settled into his own life—a father, a brother, a husband.

John III absentmindedly twisted the wedding ring on his finger. It was the same his father once wore, a simple gold band engraved with DCN to JCW. “I guess people said that it was a shattered-lives situation,” John said. “It broke. But it got fixed.”

• • •

“There’s no sense when it comes to justice”
December 2, 2010

The Manhattan District Attorney appealed the ruling that overturned Daryl Whitley’s conviction. At the oral argument on December 2, 2010, Daryl’s white shoe-lawyer, appointed by the court to represent him pro-bono, stood to defend the decision to grant the Great Writ. The federal judge who had overturned the conviction had been right, he said. To allow Glenn Richardson’s testimony to be read without telling the jury Richardson no longer stood behind his memories compromised the due process promised by the Constitution. The District Attorney’s office disagreed.

The Wood family was not among the audience in the cavernous ceremonial courtroom, but Daryl Whitley’s wife and daughter came from the Bronx. After the arguments, Tammy, soft in the middle now, waited on the edges for a translation of the proceedings. Her husband’s attorney introduced himself, and began his assessment with “unfortunately…” Hope, high an hour before, had dimmed. Next to her mother, Darylnique, now a lovely, straight-backed teenager in Nikes and a neat black coat, listened calmly. They would have to wait to see what the panel of three court of appeals judges, rarely sympathetic in these cases, would decide.

Daryl’s family rode the elevator down from the ninth floor with the lawyer from the DA’s office, her girlish face showing her pleasure at the way the argument had played. Tammy glared at her. Darylnique looked uncomfortable, at her mother’s anger and at having to descend nine stories with The People for company. In the marble hallway on the ground floor, Tammy did not want to talk about the trial. “Test his DNA,” she said, what little hope she had now resting on a magic bullet that had little place in this case. “Then this will all be cleared up.”

The Whitleys walked into the little room by the exit to collect Darylnique’s sparkly pink cell phone, Tammy still blustery. I followed them in to collect my own, notebook in hand. Tammy remained wrapped in frustration. As Darylnique walked past me out the door, she touched my arm. “I’m really sorry,” she whispered.

I wanted to tell her the same. Instead, I handed Tammy a card, and asked her to call if she was willing to talk. Tammy gathered herself. “There’s no sense when it comes to justice,” she said. “That’s why I try not to say too much about it.”

• • •

One generation of stories built upon another
October 2012

In June 2011, the appeals court issued its ruling. It sided with The People, and against Daryl Whitley, a technical ruling that found that the claim at the root of his appeal had not been properly raised. Daryl had to stay in prison.

It seemed a somehow inadequate ending for a 30-year-old murder case. Reporters always want a good kicker, a climax that does justice to our readers’ efforts. But after 30 years the message here seemed murky. One generation of stories built upon one another, like the case itself, each apparent ending uncertain.

November 2012 marked 31 years since John Chase Wood died, shot on the day after his 31st birthday. Over those years, Diana Newton Wood found if not peace, then distance, from the crime that changed her life. The court ruling did little to change that. For her, this all ended years ago, she said. “Time flies.”

The years move differently for Daryl Whitley, who remains behind bars at Green Haven Correctional Facility in upstate New York. He will be 50 years old this year.

Tammy still comes to visit, sometimes spending the weekends when their turn comes up for a trailer visit. Darylnique has a daughter. Daryl hasn’t yet seen the baby.

He earns a few dollars a week keeping the grounds around the prison, and still occasionally sifts through piles of documents from his case. He is perhaps the last person for whom the details still matter. Patrick Raynard McDowell is serving a sentence of 15 to life for robbery, his third-strike offence. Jerry Giorgio retired from the police department, and has for several years worked as an investigator for the Manhattan District Attorney.

Daryl has not given up on his case. His appeal was sent back to a lower court, though chances of a different outcome are slim. Not long ago, he sent a letter to the District Attorney’s office asking about evidence collected the night of the murder. His request to resurrect bits and pieces of evidence—the clothes John Chase Wood wore that night, the beeper with a fingerprint mark—were rebuffed. The DA implied that the evidence was there somewhere, but given the years gone by, searching for it would be an “undue burden.” Even the justice system, which keeps its own slow clock, had run out of time for Daryl Whitley. ■

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