5. The Wrongful Conviction of Donzel Young

One mid-September night, Donzel Young found himself at a party in Scarlettwood Court, an Etobicoke-area public housing project. Young went with his friend, Andrew “Blacks” Reid, along with a handful of others. [1]

But two other men present would die that night. They were lured to Scarlettwood Court to settle a feud, and by the end of the evening, all those present at the party were witnesses in a serious crime. Sharon Stevens, later a key eyewitness, watched the shooting from her nearby home.

Police suspicion soon fell on Young and Reid. Both men were offered plea deals in exchange for information, but neither cooperated with investigators. Eventually, police turned their investigation to Young alone: he later claimed in prison that he was a “scapegoat.” Young claimed that his friend had promised not to allow him to go down for a double murder he hadn’t committed — but Reid died a month before Young’s trial began. In February 1991, a jury found him guilty on two counts of second-degree murder. Young was sentenced to life in prison.

During several interviews with Young in prison, Malarek grilled him about why he refused to cooperate with the police investigation and about his claim that Reid was the real killer. In one tough interview segment, Malarek pointed out that this was a very convenient story: “There are a lot of people who will say this looks like you’re trying to get off by blaming your best friend.” But in time, Malarek came to believe in Young’s innocence in this case.

To find out more, Malarek and the team travelled to Kingston, Jamaica, where they met Young’s mother and his children. The fifth also found two of Reid’s old friends. Both gave interviews claiming that before he died, Reid admitted to them he alone was responsible for the double murder. The show found a fourth subject, who claimed on camera that Reid had warned him in advance to stay away from Scarlettwood Court on the evening of the murders. Then came another two witnesses who had attended the party. They, too, pointed the finger definitively at Andrew Reid. A sixth accuser, who also appears in the episode, said that Reid and Young visited her house shortly after the murder, and that Reid had confessed openly then to being the shooter. A seventh interviewee told the fifth estate unequivocally: “Mr. Young is innocent.”

None of the seven had testified at Young’s trial, and some were never even approached by police. Instead, the prosecution leaned on eyewitness testimony from Sharon Stevens.

Most troublingly, the fifth learned that Stevens twice told a lawyer that it was not Donzel Young, but rather Andrew Reid who had pulled the trigger. The lawyer appeared in the fifth episode, where he strongly implied that Stevens had perjured herself. Once she was on the stand, her story changed: she claimed she had seen Young (not Reid, as initially claimed) shoot both men and then flee the scene. It was her testimony, more than anything else, that put Donzel Young in prison.

Next: The Decision to Confront Sharon Stevens

[1] Source for all information on this page: Victor Malarek, David Kaufman, et al. “A Failure in System” The fifth estate. Aired by CBC October 18, 1994. 39 min.