Crime & Courts

He was wrongly jailed and charged with a Charlotte woman’s death. Now he’s free again.

If you witness a crime, here’s what to do

Witnessing a crime and reporting it can be just as frightening as being the victim of a crime. Here’s what you should do if you witness illegal activity.
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Witnessing a crime and reporting it can be just as frightening as being the victim of a crime. Here’s what you should do if you witness illegal activity.

Tomka Antonio McDowell asked the question repeatedly to police who arrested him in connection with the fatal shooting of a 71-year-old woman in her north Charlotte home.

“Why me?” he wanted to know.

Police never answered, McDowell told The Charlotte Observer in a telephone interview Friday.

Police, according to McDowell, told him only that he was being charged with first-degree murder and other offenses in the death of Santa Rodena Acevedo and the shooting of her husband.

Police found the couple shot in their home in the 1900 block of Newland Road on April 4, the Observer previously reported. Acevedo was pronounced dead in the home, police said in a news release at the time, and her husband was hospitalized. McDowell was arrested the next day.

After a month in jail, however, the 51-year-old Charlotte resident was freed, with prosecutors dismissing all of the charges against him, court records show.

Tomka McDowell.jpg
Mecklenburg County jail

Video surveillance footage was the key, McDowell’s lawyer with the Mecklenburg County Public Defender’s Office told The Charlotte Observer on Friday.

Video footage proved McDowell’s innocence, lawyer says

The footage, obtained by Percy Wilson, an investigator with the public defender’s office, showed that McDowell was 5.5 miles from the shootings, according to Michael Kabakoff, first assistant public defender with the office.

Kabakoff said that in mid-April, he subpoenaed surveillance camera footage at a Charlotte Housing Authority property where McDowell told Kabakoff his boss, a contractor, had dropped him off the night of the shootings. McDowell and his boss spent the day repairing a house in Wadesboro, Kabakoff told the Observer. Wadesboro is about 50 miles southeast of Charlotte in Anson County.

The footage showed McDowell’s boss dropping him off and McDowell walking about the housing authority property, Kabakoff told the Observer.

In late April, Kabakoff said, he shared the footage on a USB drive with a Mecklenburg County assistant district attorney. On May 3, court records show, prosecutors dismissed all of the charges — first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, inflicting serious injury, and possession of a firearm by a felon.

“Though he never deserved to be charged with these terrible crimes, Mr. McDowell was fortunate to have video documentation that he was nowhere near the scene of the crime when it happened,” Kabakoff said in an emailed statement to the Observer Friday. . “In a perfect world, detectives would have found the video evidence before charging him with such serious crimes.”

In their April news release announcing McDowell’s arrest, police did not say what evidence or information led to the charges. Police have not responded to a request for comment emailed by the Observer to CMPD’s public information office on Thursday.

Prosecutor cites ‘new evidence’ for dropping charges

In court filings dismissing each charge, prosecutor Brett Few said that after McDowell’s arrest, “additional evidence was collected and reviewed by CMPD and the District Attorney’s Office. The review of this new evidence revealed that there is insufficient evidence to believe that the defendant committed the above captioned crime.”

In his interview with the Observer Friday, Kabakoff said police told him a witness placed McDowell at the scene. He said police have yet to arrest anyone else in the case.

In his statement Friday, Kabakoff said the case “reveals an overlooked part of criminal defense, and the work of public defenders in particular, which is that we investigate cases, whether to defend them at trial or, as here, to bring indisputable proof of innocence to the prosecutor.

McDowell grateful for his public defenders

“A1 job,” McDowell told the Observer of Kabakoff. “If not for him, I’d still be sitting in jail.”

“I’m still trying to figure out how to get my life back on track,” he said, adding that a repair shop junked his car after seeing his mug on TV. Someone else junked his other car, he said.

At least, he said, “I can get an apple or a pear out of the refrigerator. I’m free again.”

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