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The Black press and the Stuart case

Ronald Mitchell
The Black press and the Stuart case
“I can’t believe the brother spent 12 years in jail after everyone knew he was framed in the Stuart case.”

This week, the Boston Globe and HBO premiered a series on one of the most notorious crimes in Boston history: The October 1989 murder of Carol DiMaiti Stuart by her husband Charles, who allegedly covered up his actions by shooting himself and claiming a fictitious Black man did it. The horrific crime rocked the city for weeks as police relentlessly shook down the Black community, Black men in particular, in search of the imaginary assailant.

Caught up in that manhunt was William Bennett, a Black man implicated by his nephew and another youth who shortly afterward recanted their story. But by then, Bennett’s name and photo were widely disseminated by media in Boston and beyond as the likely killer. He remained under suspicion until Jan. 4, 1990, when Stuart jumped off the Tobin Bridge in a likely suicide a day after his brother Matthew told authorities the true story behind the plot.

We commend HBO and the Globe, and in particular columnist Adrian Walker, for revisiting the story that many would rather forget as another stain on Boston’s troubled racial past. But it is precisely because it is painful that it must be remembered, and to prevent such a horrendous act from ever happening again.

The Globe-HBO collaboration is not the final word, however, nor as we can glean from the early installments, is it a complete one. A key element never fully reported in white-owned media is the story from William Bennett himself, which he gave to the Banner exclusively in 1993 in an interview with then-managing editor Robin Washington. In it, Bennett — who was incarcerated for two unrelated robberies he was convicted of shortly following the Stuart case — said that prosecutors used the sane fabricated evidence from Stuart’s concocted accusation to pin the robbery cases on him. Except for the Banner, his contentions fell on deaf ears. (Bennett in 2017 gave one more interview to WBZ-TV, but did not elaborate on the robbery case. That report said he served 12 years and was released in 2002).

The Globe/HBO series reports that Bennett, now 73, is afflicted with dementia and was not available to be interviewed by them. It’s not certain he would have granted one regardless of his health. In the 1993 Banner interview, he vowed never to speak with the Boston Herald or the Globe, which long after Stuart’s apparent suicide and Bennett’s complete exoneration published a column by then-Globe staffer Mike Barnicle making the specious suggestion that Bennett and Charles Stuart knew each other after all.

The Stuart Case and the hoax it perpetrated maligning the entire Black community must never be forgotten or repeated. Likewise, the role of the Black press in telling the stories that mainstream media either forget or are perpetually unaware of cannot be understated. The Banner is honored and proud to be part of that tradition, and rededicates itself to that invaluable mission, and the truth it brings to all of society.

Here is William Bennett’s interview with the Banner from 1993:

Bennett claims police framed him after Stuart case hoax

By Robin Washington

BAY STATE BANNER • MARCH 4, 1993

The first thing the inmate in the 65-degree interview room at Gardner Correctional Facility wants you to know is that his name is William Bennett.

Not Willie Bennett, unless you know him personally. And not Slick Willie or Willie Horton either. Yet for three-and-a-half years, he has constantly been mistaken for someone else.

“They lied to get me in here,” embitters Bennett. “I don’t see why in hell they don’t lie to get me out of here.”

The lie that sparked Bennett’s current incarceration on November 13, 1989 was Boston’s most notorious case of mistaken identity: the claim by Charles Stuart that Bennett was the imaginary black man who a month before shot his wife Carol and unborn son Christopher.

Yet, though Bennett was exonerated by Stuart’s apparent suicide of the Tobin Bridge in January 1990, the former Mission Hill convicted cop-shooter says he is still serving time for the racial hoax of the century.

“I’m at the top of [the police department’s] brains,” Bennett philosophizes. “When they wake up in the morning, they think of me because of what I did in the past.

“You’ve got people that keep on saying that this robbery case and the Stuart case are unrelated,” assesses Bennett of the two robbery convictions for which he is serving a 12-to 25-year sentence. “They’re not unrelated. They’re related. Because they used the same identification that Chuck Stuart did.”

On October 9, 1990, Bennett was convicted of the armed robbery of a Brookline video store in a trial moved to Cape Cod because of Stuart case publicity. Two weeks later, Bennett was also sentenced for the robbery of a Beacon Hill yogurt shop.

Yet, says Bennett, placing a ream of court documents and newspaper clippings on a prison table, evidence used to convict him closely mimicked false allegations made by Charles Stuart.

One document, a 1989 Brookline police report, then overlooked by the media in exhaustive searches of Boston Police records, cites a “black man in a running suit” description of the video store robber. The wording is nearly identical to Stuart’s fictitious account.

“[Stuart] said that I had a raspy voice. And then you got people in Brookline who said I had a raspy voice,” compares Bennett. “Where did those people get that identification from? They got it from the police who coerced those witnesses and said, `listen, we need this guy, we got him, we want him.’”

“On November 11 when they first picked me up, they said in the paper that I had a nickel-plated .38. Brookline case: nickel-plated .38. Stuart case: I had a raspy voice and a spotted beard and a short afro. Well, that’s a coincidence because the people in Brookline, they said the same damn thing! Now, January 4, 1990, this lame jumps over the bridge and takes his life. Everything that he said was a lie.”

But a jury’s verdict and three-and-a-half years later, authorities refused to label the Brookline and Beacon Hill convictions a similar lie. In that time, Bennett was moved from Walpole to Gardner prisons, and has seen his name resurface again and again in connection with the Stuart case.

“They asked me if I ever got cards from Chuck Stuart or if I ever worked at [Stuart’s employer] Kakas Furs,” relates Bennett of Boston Globe and Boston Herald interviews that he says he will no longer grant. “They were trying to trick me into saying that I knew him. I never knew the man. I never heard of the man.”

Other allegations of a relationship between Bennett and Stuart have come from more official sources, including a Boston Police detective, Tommy Montgomery, nearly two years after the Carol Stuart killing.

Yet in September 1991, a month after Montgomery’s charges, Bennett was exonerated a second time of any role in the case by former Suffolk County District Attorney Newman Flanagan. While being transferred between prison facilities following Flanagan’s statement, Bennett responded with a middle finger to gaping television cameras.

“I did that because I couldn’t say what I wanted to say,” explains Bennett to suggestions that his gesture may have offended some people. “I did that because they were still trying to put the Stuart Case on me and they couldn’t do it. Plus I didn’t have enough time. I was shackled and I was handcuffed. I couldn’t say what I wanted to say.”

Bennett also cares little if he offends black community leaders, who he says did nothing for him before Stuart’s apparent suicide and little following.

“After [the police] tore my mother’s house up, I thought that they were going to do something for me then. But they didn’t do nothin’. When they walked into my daughter’s mother’s house on Warren Street, they tore her house inside out. And when I was staying out in Burlington with my other kid’s mother, they tore her house up. Nobody did nothin’. I don’t have anything good to say about the black community because they didn’t do nothin’ for me.”

The 43-year-old inmate, who says he spent nearly half his life behind bars but never felt despondent until the Stuart allegations, reserves his strongest condemnation for the police and the mayor.

Under Mayor Ray Flynn’s directive, Boston police conducted a massive manhunt for the fictitious black assailant named by Charles Stuart after the 1989 murder. A 1991 U.S. Attorney’s report strongly condemned the department for coercing young Mission Hill residents into implicating Bennett.

“They put guns to my nieces’ and nephews’ heads, [saying] ‘where’s your uncle?’ My nephew can’t even talk or hear,” recalls Bennett.

Last fall, Bennett filed suit against the Stuart estate and the City of Boston. Also, the state Supreme Judicial Court has heard arguments by Bennett’s attorney that he was denied a fair trial in the video store case.

If for no one else, Bennett believes that there may be a lesson in the case for the police.

“I bet the police woke up. And they won’t be able to do things like that no more.

“When I was in Dedham Jail, President Bush made a statement. He only did this because the Boston police all voted for him. I’ll never forget this. He said ‘the Boston Police did a tremendous job in the Stuart investigation.’ In 1990, I think it was either August or September. I’m sitting in Dedham Jail, and I’m thinking, what the hell does this man have to say? And the Boston Police felt so embarrassed. I know they felt embarrassed. Everybody knows the Stuart case!

“But I’ll tell you, things like this case, some people want it to die down. But as long as I’m black and as long as I’m still living, I’m not gonna let it die down because I’m still in jail for something I didn’t do. The joke’s over. I want to get out. I want to go home.”

Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Boston Police, Carol DiMaiti Stuart, Charles Stuart, roxbury, William Bennett