County of Conviction: Los Angeles
Convicted of: First Degree Murder
Sentence: 60 Years-to-Life
Years Served: 19
Cost to Taxpayer: $540,000
On April 16, 2001, around 11:30 A.M., a car with three young African-American women stopped in front of a group of men, members of the Block Crips, standing outside a house at 1435 West 113th Street. One of the women got out of the car, sauntered up to the house and knocked on the door; no one answered. The woman then turned and walked up to the group of men standing outside, engaged them in a brief conversation, and asked if they knew where “Nakia” lived. The men told her they didn’t know. The woman walked back to the car, then suddenly turned around and fired a handgun into the group of men. One of the shots fatally wounded Christian Henton. All three women drove off in the car, and as the car went down the street, shots were fired from the car at Shawntaye Allen, grazing Allen’s torso. The shooter was described as having a “lazy eye.” She had a tattoo of a name on her upper right thigh and wearing an all-red outfit: red tube top, red corduroy shorts, and a red visor.
On April 16, 2001, at 11:30 A.M., Kiera Newsome was in class at Crenshaw SEA Charter School, thirteen miles away from the shooting. Suffering from residual anxiety from witnessing the December 2000 gang-related shooting death of her boyfriend Marquell Norman, her plan was to complete credits to graduate in June, finish high school, and move on with her life. School procedures at SEA charter school are quite rigid – small classes and continuous adult supervision ensured that these continuation students focused on remediation and graduation. Students were expected to sign in and out of the school, attendance in class was taken several times daily, as well as at lunch, and students were unable to leave school grounds with permission. Uniforms consisted of black pants and a white polo shirt.
In July 2003, Kiera was convicted of first-degree murder with a firearm enhancement. Her co-defendant, Dawnyell Flynn, the alleged driver of the vehicle, was acquitted of all charges. The prosecution relied on eyewitness testimony from the victims from the shooting. The men who had been shot at were known gang members of the Block Crips and admitted to being high on marijuana at the time of the shooting. One of the men identified a completely different person than Kiera in a photo lineup. Furthermore, Kiera does not have the “lazy eye” that an eyewitness identified as characteristic of the shooter.
At trial, the defense provided written evidence of Kiera’s attendance at all of her classes at the SEA Charter School the day of the murder, testimony from her teacher verifying her presence in class, and dated assignments from the class that morning. However, the prosecution drew a different picture: after signing into class, Kiera could have slipped out the back gate of her school, changed her clothes on the 13-mile drive to the crime scene from her school uniform to the all-red outfit the shooter wore, committed the crime, changed her clothes again on the drive back to school, and appeared in the classroom in time for the noon lunch headcount.
In the ten years since her sentencing, the California Innocence Project has learned that different people have come forward to state that Kiera was not the shooter and was set up by another member of the 107 Hoover Crips.
During the Innocence March Kiera’s teacher has come out and walked more than 20 miles with our team. She had no relationship with Kiera beyond being a teacher and had no reason to lie. The prosecution’s theory of Kiera’s ability to be involved in the shooting is extremely unlikely and Kiera’s alibi is strong.
In December of 2018, Governor Gavin Newsom granted Kiera Newsome’s clemency petition, effectively commuting her sentence and making her instantly eligible for parole. In November of 2019, Kiera was granted parole. On April 7, 2020, Kiera Newsome walked out of prison a free woman.
>>Read the next story, JoAnn Parks.