A mid-level appeals court on Thursday threw out robbery and burglary convictions for a New York City man whose attack on a group of rival drug dealers prompted a shooting in a Whitehall trailer park hours later.
The Appellate Division of state Supreme Court found insufficient evidence to convict Tyshen “Nitty” Matthews of Queens of a robbery count and found that he was denied adequate counsel for his trial.
Matthews has been serving a 20-year prison term for the April 2013 robbery of a group of drug dealers who were staying at a motel in Hampton.
Matthews had been selling crack cocaine from a Route 4 trailer park and, as retribution for the robbery, the group that he targeted fired 10 shots from a rifle into a trailer where he had been staying.
No one was hurt, but the two violent crimes led to felony convictions for six other people as authorities learned that drug gangs from New York City and Hartford, Connnecticut, were in a dispute over turf.
Matthews was convicted after a trial in Washington County Court. The trial occurred three weeks after his court-appointed lawyer, Martin Carbone, had sought to be taken off the case, arguing that the attorney-client relationship had “deteriorated” to the point he could not represent Matthews because his client yelled at him, filed his own pre-trial motions and filed complaints against him.
Judge Kelly McKeighan declined to relieve him, and the Appellate Division found that he should have inquired further about the relationship before denying the request.
The appeals court also threw out the weightiest charge against Matthews, first-degree robbery.
While the reversal returns the case to Washington County Court for a re-trial, the first-degree robbery charge will not be considered for re-trial, as the Appellate Division found that the plastic pellet gun that was used during the motel robbery could not be considered a weapon or “dangerous instrument.”
“Indisputably, the ‘gun’ was plastic and did not work, and there was no evidence that it could potentially harm someone,” Justice Michael Lynch wrote.
Instead, he should face a lesser count of second-degree robbery, the court found.
Matthews, 46, was being held in the maximum-security Downstate Correctional Facility as of Thursday, but will be returned to Washington County in the coming days for his case to be heard again.
He was represented on appeal by lawyer Thomas Garner of Middleburgh. The Warren County District Attorney’s Office is prosecuting the case as a special prosecutor, assigned because the Washington County District Attorney’s Office had a conflict as it prosecuted the victims of the robbery on drug cases.