Drew Whitley’s federal lawsuit claims tunnel-vision by police entrapped the wrong man in brutal 1978 McDonald’s slaying near Kennywood Park
By Katie Hildman
Innocence Institute of Point Park University
Three years after DNA tests exonerated Drew Whitley in the murder of a 22-year-old McDonald’s night manager, his attorney has alleged in civil court that police never investigated two potential suspects with criminal backgrounds who were seen near the crime scene.
Whitley is suing police and Allegheny County officials for damages concerning his wrongful conviction and 18 years of imprisonment, and his attorney says if gunshot residue and polygraph tests were administered and genetic tests were conducted on material under Whitley’s fingernails, he never would have been charged in the first place.
That information, along with allegations that police pressured two witnesses into identifying Whitley in exchange for reduced prison sentences has caused Whitley’s attorney to demand civil damages in U.S. District Court. In the meantime, 21 years after the murder of Noreen Malloy in a McDonald’s parking lot near Kennywood Park, the killer remains at large.
“These Defendants, individually, and in a conspiracy with each other, violated [Whitley's] rights under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and deprived [him] of his liberty without due process of law by instituting charges against him without probable cause and with malice, vengeance, and bias such that Plaintiff was maliciously prosecuted for a crime which he did not commit and which these Defendants deprived Plaintiff of his right to a fair trial,” the lawsuit says.
Whitley was accused of wearing a trench coat, hat, stocking mask and gloves to conceal his identity during the attempted robbery turned murder in 1988. However, the trench coat allegedly worn by the assailant was never tested for gunshot residue, the hat was more than an inch smaller in circumference than Whitley’s head and the saliva found on the mask did not match Whitley’s. Whitley was convicted and sentenced to life in prison until the Innocence Institute of Point Park University discovered DNA evidence that proved Whitley did not murder Malloy.
The lawsuit filed in federal court by attorney Lawrence Fisher states that police selectively used photo arrays and polygraphs to target Whitley and acted with deliberate indifference to evidence implicating Nathan Meador and Kevin Tench as prime suspects in Noreen Malloy’s murder.
Evidence Never Added Up
In the early morning hours of August 17, 1988 night manager Noreen Malloy was shot dead during an attempted robbery after she locked the McDonalds Restaurant across from Kennywood Park.
When questioned by police, a McDonald’s worker who was present to unload a delivery truck identified Whitley as Malloy’s murderer despite the fact that the individual was wearing a stocking mask, trench coat, hat and gloves.
Several hours after the crime, Whitley, who lived nearby in West Mifflin, was locked up on an unrelated parole violation until he was charged and convicted when pre-DNA blood tests suggested Whitley wore the clothing found near the murder scene. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Many years later, The Innocence Institute of Point Park University, a journalism-based Innocence Project where students investigate and write about allegations of wrongful convictions, began a five year process of scrutinizing Whitley’s unwavering claims of innocence.
The Innocence Institute successfully contradicted much of the eyewitness testimony that linked Whitley to the crime, leaving only forensic evidence to be scrutinized.
Evidence Lost (and Found)
Initially, Allegheny County police said they lost the evidence when floodwaters overtook its Wood Street headquarters. When the Innocence Institute proved the hair evidence existed after the flood, it was found in a police drawer. District Attorney Stephen Zappala initially opposed the testing of the hair evidence saying that two witnesses identifying Whitley as the murderer was more than enough to convict him anyways. However, Zappala eventually changed his mind and decided not to oppose the DNA test of the hair which proved Whitley did not murder Malloy. He was released after serving 18 years of his sentence.
“I got a little weary at times, and I would call mom, she was always there, keeping me focused throughout this nightmare,” Whitley told a judge as he was being released. “Mom, you stood by me through thick and thin, we went through this war together, and we won.” He also credited the Innocence Institute for its relentless work, calling students who never gave up on his case “heroes.”
In sworn depositions after Whitley filed his federal suit, one of the investigating officers agreed that more could have been done to investigate other potential suspects for the crime. The lawsuit claims Kevin Tench was seen walking in the area approximately an hour before the crime occurred wearing a trench coat and Nathan Meador was also seen hitch hiking nearby the night of the murder.
“I just assumed we had him alibied and I just don’t know what else happened to him,” said Detective Robert Lazzaro, who has since retired, in his deposition concerning potential suspect Meador. “I guess, clearly at the time I guess — what happened at the time, we just — he had an alibi. We just stopped there. We probably could him looked at him a little further, yes.”
According to court papers, less than an hour after the killing, a man named Ki Mihaly said he picked up a hitch hiking Meador from the side of the road. Mihaly gave Meador one of his business cards and eventually hired him as a cleanup worker at Three Rivers Stadium. Court papers say police interviewed Meador, who said he staying with his girlfriend in Wilkinsburg and that her uncle, Earnest Bowden, had picked them up at approximately 2 a.m. from the police station after her car had been impounded the night of the murder.
However, court papers state Bowden told police that was not true. In addition to Meador’s questionable alibi, the court papers say he fits the description given of the murder suspect; he was young (20 years old), black, 6’2”, and very thin (147 pounds).
The court papers say three months after the murder police first spoke with Tench, who failed several questions on a polygraph test, including showing deception on a question of whether he was in the area of Kennywood Park the night of Malloy’s murder. The court papers say a man named Barry Mayes who was visiting his mother in Mon View Heights that night remembered seeing Tench around 1:45 a.m., about an hour before the crime occurred, walking towards Kennywood Park. According to the court papers, Mayes knew Tench from a previous interaction when Tench stole Newport cigarettes from a beer store. Newport is the same brand of cigarettes found at the crime scene. The court papers also state that Mayes told the officers that Tench was wearing a beige coat that hung below the knees and that one of Tench’s friends owned a .25 caliber weapon, the same sized weapon that was used to murder Malloy
The case is currently in the summary judgment phase with both sides of the argument being reviewed. According to Whitley’s attorney, the defendants claim there is not sufficient evidence to make a cause of action because the officers were merely negligent.
Neither the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office nor the Allegheny County Police responded to requests for comment.
Katie Hildman is an undergraduate student reporter for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University. She can be reached at innocence@ pointpark.edu or 412-765-3164.