Ten years ago, Charles Bogues confessed that his errant bullet struck and killed Louis D. Brown on a Dorchester Street as the 15-year-old was on his way to an after-school Christmas party for Teens Against Gang Violence.
Today, after a decade behind bars, Bogues is urging a state appeals court to toss out his guilty plea. And he has found an unlikely ally, Brown's mother, Tina Chery, who became a leading crusader against violence after her son's death and formed the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute in his honor.
"My fear is that he didn't do it," said Chery, who has forged a friendship with Bogues's mother, Doris, through a support group for the mothers of victims and killers. After reviewing evidence that she believes points toward other possible suspects, she said she has questions about whether Bogues, the son of a Boston police officer, killed her son.
"If he's saying he didn't do it and he wants a jury trial, then give him a new trial," said Chery, citing a series of wrongful convictions in Suffolk County in the 1990s. "Mistakes have been made in the past. If this was one of those mistakes . . . then I would hope it would be brought to light."
Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley, whose office is urging the appeals court to uphold Bogues's conviction, issued a statement last week saying his office reexamined all the evidence and "there is not a single aspect of it to suggest that anyone but Charles Bogues, who pleaded guilty to murder, shot and killed Louis D. Brown."
On the afternoon of Dec. 20, 1993, a gunfight erupted between two groups of young men on Tonawanda Street, spilling over to Geneva Avenue, where Brown was shot in the back of the head as he walked to the Fields Corner MBTA station to catch a train to his party.
During a telephone interview last week from the state's medium-security prison in Shirley, Bogues, 37, said he had just joined several friends on Tonawanda Street when one of them was shot by an unknown gunman, sending the group scrambling for cover as they dodged more bullets.
Bogues said he ran toward Geneva Avenue, then stopped to return shots as a man opened fire on him from an alley on Tonawanda Street and wounded another friend.
"The only person I was shooting at was the person in the alley," said Bogues, insisting that he couldn't have killed Brown, who was gunned down around the corner, and didn't know who did.
But in March 1997, after his arrest on federal gun and drug charges, Bogues cut a deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for Brown's slaying, making him eligible for parole after serving 15 years. In exchange, authorities dropped the federal charges, which could have added at least another 15 years to Bogues's prison time.
It's a deal Bogues said he regretted immediately. He asserts he was duped into pleading guilty by prosecutors and his defense lawyer, who said that ballistics evidence found at the scene proved he must have fired the fatal shot because he was the only one brandishing a .45 caliber weapon. Brown was killed by a .45 caliber bullet to his head.
"At that point, when they told me the only person with a .45 was me, I thought maybe the bullet ricocheted and I did it," Bogues said. "But I didn't see how I could . . . it was always in the back of my mind that there was no way I could shoot around the corner."
Police never recovered the gun Bogues used that night. He said he sawed it in pieces several days later, then dumped them into Boston Harbor.
A firearms expert hired by Bogues's new lawyer filed an affidavit in state court in 2004 saying that his examination of ballistics evidence gathered by Boston police revealed that more than one .45 caliber gun was used during the shootout that led to Brown's death - because a bullet and shell casings found at the scene came from two different .45 caliber weapons.
Bogues also says in his appeal that his prior lawyer failed to review the state's evidence before advising him to plead guilty, and he didn't learn until later that eyewitnesses implicated someone else in the slaying. He said he didn't learn until later that eyewitnesses had offered a description of the shooter that didn't match Bogues, and several witnesses implicated one of Bogues's friends as the shooter. That man was never charged.
Conley said in his statement last week that .45 caliber shell casings found in the area where Bogues was standing during the shootout were consistent with the bullet that killed Brown.
He described the evidence against Bogues as "solid, scientific, longstanding and well-documented."
In February, a superior court judge found that the ballistics evidence cited by Bogues wasn't significant and refused to vacate his murder conviction.
His fate is now before the appeals court.
As Chery met with Bogues's mother, Doris, and sister, Sam, last week, the women said the case is riddled with unanswered questions and urged anyone with information about Brown's slaying to come forward.
Chery said she wants a face-to-face meeting with Bogues so he can look her in the eye and tell her he didn't kill her son.
Bogues says he's turned his life around in prison, where he's earned a barber's license and runs a program for young fathers. He is no longer the same person who sold drugs and carried a gun, he says.