In June 2010, Vincent Cort drove his orange Oldsmobile Delta 88 into the parking lot of a Milwaukee liquor store. He went in, and came back out a few minutes later with a bottle and returned to his car. A man in a hoodie approached his car window, and pointed a gun at him, yelling "give it up". When Cort did not immediately comply, the guy fired at least one shot, hitting Cort. He managed to drive away from the parking lot, and was eventually transported to a hospital and died.
Despite video surveillance footage of the parking lot, the Milwaukee police were unable to solve this crime.
In February 2012, a man named Paris Saffold was arrested in connection with a drug investigation, unrelated to the Cort homicide case. He was taken to jail, having been in possession of cocaine. In an obvious effort to extricate himself from his legal trouble, Saffold told police that he had been an eyewitness to the "planning of the robbery" which resulted in the death of Cort. Saffold told a story claiming to have resided at an apartment complex across the street from the liquor store where Cort was shot. He claimed that he had seen and heard George Taylor, Laquan Riley and Steven Hopgood, plan to rob Cort, with Riley being the shooter, with a gun provided by Hopgood.
Taylor, Riley and Hopgood were subsequently arrested and taken to trial, in December 2012.
Taylor, Riley and Hopgood were all tried together. The State relied almost exclusively upon the testimony of Saffold, with no other evidence implicating Taylor, Riley and Hopgood in this case. The Prosecutor presented a bullet into evidence, claiming that it had been found in the vehicle and was the one that had killed Cort. The problem is that, despite this claim by the Prosecutor to the jury, the report of the well-respected forensic ballistic expert Greg Martin establishes that the bullet could not possibly have been the one that killed Cort. Moreover, despite the fact that the Prosecutor told the jury that there was a 'red substance" found on the bullet, insinuating that it was blood, DNA test results prove there was no blood found on the bullet. Most interesting, however, is the Police Report from the original Police Officers, who conducted the initial vehicle search, that establish no bullet was found in the vehicle. This proves that the bullet used by the Prosecutor at Trial was planted, and was not the one that killed Cort, yet the Prosecutor presented the false evidence anyway. The Prosecutor told the jury that there were no other suspects, besides the three men on Trial, and following a series of improper comments during the Trial, and closing arguments by the Prosecutor, the jury convicted them.
Steven Hopgood was convicted of murder and sentenced to 17 years in prison, with 7 years of supervision.
Steven Donte Hopgood #442060
100 Corrections Drive
Stanley, WISCONSIN 54768
Following Hopgood’s conviction, he uncovered a series of Police Reports which established that the Prosecutor lied to the Court about there being no other suspects. The Reports listed the people named therein by initials, and consisted of:
1. Eric Cooper who reported to the Police that Raymond Scott had told him, that he followed around a white male in an orange Olds Delta 88, because a friend of his sister told him the guy carried a lot of money around, and that he had shot him when he tried to drive away.
2. Kenyatta Watson reported to the Police that Verdale Armstrong told him that he had "killed a white dude for not giving up his orange car". Armstrong told Watson that a person named Tawanna had set up the idea for the robbery. It was also discovered that Tawanna turned out to be Tawanna Watkins who was a former girlfriend of Cort, and who was the beneficiary of Cort's life insurance policy. She received $86,000 in insurance money after he was killed, despite having broken up with Cort.
3. "Brushae Brown" reported that "Anthony Aderson" bragged about killing white boy Vinnie".
These Reports establish that the Police and Prosecutor had information that there were other suspects, with a far greater likelihood of having committed the crime than Taylor, Riley and Hopgood. Yet the Prosecutor lied to the jury about it.
Additional withheld Police Reports establish that there were two additional eyewitnesses, Andre Jones and Cynthia Smith who saw the shooting, and did not identify Riley as the shooter, contrary to Saffold's story.
Notably, at trial, when one of the video surveillance footage scenes was shown, it established that the shooter was wearing a hoodie, which conflicted with Saffold's testimony, and left him stuttering about how Riley got the hoodie, when his initial story did not have Riley wearing a hoodie.
Saffold's story also had Taylor driving Riley away from the scene in a white BMW. The problem is that Kelli Watson, who the PublicDdefenders did not call as a witness, established that she had possession of the white BMW all day, from 10am to 10.30pm, as she frequently switched cars with Taylor. This fact undermined Saffold's story because, although he knew that Taylor had a white BMW, he could incorporate into his story, he did not know that Taylor could prove he did not have it on the day of the shooting. Taylor was later granted an Evidentiary Hearing on this issue, and that litigation remains pending.
Saffold's story also claimed that he was together with Taylor, Riley and Hopgood the entire time, until Cort actually entered the liquor store. The problem with this part of his story is that Latoria Dodson, whose testimony was not presented at trial, but was presented in post-conviction proceedings, was a witness. She states that she saw the guy in the hoodie walk over to the liquor store minutes before Cort exited the store, 10 or 15 minutes before she heard the shot fired.
A second video which was not shown at trial also shows Taylor in the parking lot of the liquor store well before the shooting. He was wearing clothes completely different from the shooter, establishing that he was not the shooter, but which also completely disproves Saffold's story that Saffold was together with all three men until after Cort was in the store.
In addition to all of the withheld information that demonstrates that Saffold's story is simply not possibly true, it was disclosed at trial that he stood not only to gain having the cocaine arrest disappear, but also he stood to gain ten thousand dollars ($10,000) in reward money for his testimony against Taylor, Riley and Hopgood. What was not disclosed, was the fact that Saffold not only refused to testify unless he was given the ten thousand dollars, but also that he had been given some of the money in advance, to pay rent and deposit on an apartment. Despite strict rules mandating that this be revealed to the Court and jury, the Prosecutor withheld this fact.
What is really eye-opening and disturbing is that, in connection with the discovery of the funds, it was also discovered that Lead Detective, Rudolfo Gomez had actually extorted a portion of the reward money from Saffold. Gomez was later caught falsifying information on a warrant application, in an unrelated case and prosecuted for his crime. However, Gomez's sinister involvement in this case went further.
Steven Hopgood resided with the mother of his children at the time of the crime. Inexplicably, the Public Defenders refused to call her as a witness, to testify to Hopgood’s alibi, which she has provided in a report to the lawyers' investigators, proving that Hopgood did not go out that day, but was inside with her the entire day, and moreover that he did not have any firearms, thereby disproving Saffold's claim that Hopgood had given Riley the gun.
The mother of Hopgood's children provided additional information, regarding disgraced Detective Rudolfo Gomez. She advised the investigator that, one night after her name appeared on the witness list for Hopgood, Gomez came to her home late at night, after she was in bed, tried to force his way into her home, and threatened her, stating "I'll be back to pick up your dead body, and you better not go to court on the 17th". He also threatened to take her to jail.
A review of all of the court proceedings, the withheld Police Reports, the statement of the mother of Hopgood's children, the misconduct and lies of the Prosecutor, and the information regarding Lead Detective Rudolfo Gomez, together with the fatal flaws and inconsistencies on Paris Saffold's story, it is indisputable that Steven Donte Hopgood is actually innocent of any involvement in the murder of Cort. He was set up by a liar seeking money and dismissal of his own criminal charge, and the proof of his innocence was never presented to the trial court, or the jury due to prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective counsel.
What is even more inexplicable about this case is that Steven Hopgood's only alleged involvement in this crime was, according to Paris Saffold, having handed the gun to Riley. The jury acquitted Steven Hopgood of possession of a firearm, but convicted him of felony murder on the basis of ... having possessed the firearm! The inconsistent verdict is just the tip of the iceberg in the clear errors in this case.
Steven Hopgood, Wisconsin