Twenty-five years of Executions and Twenty-Five Executions with Reasonable Doubts: A Brief Analysis of Some post-Gregg v. Georgia Executions
by Karl Keys*

Since Gary Gilmore on January 17, 1977 said "let's do it" over 700 persons have been executed by various means around the country. Twenty-five of those case are identified below as having occurred despite reasonable doubts as to the guilt of the person executed In half of those cases the evidence suggests more than a reasonable doubt, but the likelihood, and in six cases, a strong likelihood, of an innocent person having been executed.

A non-inclusive study of those killed has resulted in the following calculations: [1] the first section is unequivocal near misses where the person was cleared of all charges and either came within a few days of execution OR had been denied through several rounds of appeals , if a truly innocent person can get this close than logic dictates that the line may well have been crossed; [2] cases of high probability of innocents being executed; [3] cases of probable innocents being executed; [4] cases where execution occurred despite evidence of innocence; [5] other cases of not; and, finally, [6] a summary  lisitng of some cases excluded from the study  where claims of  innocence were excluded from the study, chiefly due to lack of readily obtainable materials.  Claims of innocence that are factually disproven have been excluded from analysis.

In light of the number of people listed, this study is by no mean an exhaustive analysis of each case, rather, summarizes some of the evidence of innocence and may suggest reasons for why the system failed in a given case.

The Confirmed Near Misses

Although there have been approximately one hundred (100) [fn 1] cases where a person was released for reasons of factual innocence (rather than legal innocence or some other "technical" reason) even a quick overview of handful of these cases provides ample evidence that the jury system can, and often does, err in capital cases.
[A] Anthony Porter (Illinois) Porter is one of thirteen men released from Illinois's death row in the modern era for actual innocence. He was arguably the luckiest. Porter was released in February, 1999 on the motion of the State's Attorney after another man confessed on videotape to the double 1982 murder that sent Porter to death row. Charges were filed against the other man, who claimed he killed in self-defense. The case was broken by investigator Paul Ciolino working with Prof. David Protess and journalism students from Northwestern University. Their investigation also found that another witness had been pressured by police to testify against Porter. Porter came within 2 days of execution in 1998 and was only spared because the court wanted to look into his mental competency. Porter has an IQ of 51. His conviction was officially reversed on March 11, 1999.

[B] Clarence Brandley (Texas) "Since you're the nigger your elected" was the famous quote from this case where the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, by Pickett, J., concludes that "the color of Clarence Brandley's skin was a substantial factor which pervaded all aspects of the State's capital prosecution of him." He received his first stay 5 days from his scheduled execution. His second stay was granted 13 days from his final walk.

[C] Randall Dale Adams (Texas) Adams was found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of killing a police officer. Sentenced to death, his appeals were rejected. Just seventy-two hours from execution, by a stroke of good fortune, it was established that the wrong man was about to be put to death. His case was highlighted in the movie in "A Thin Blue Line."

[D] Andrew Lee Mitchell (Texas) Mitchell was granted relief on appeal due to suppressed evidence and other evidence of innocence, he was released from custody in 1993 and has not been reindicted, he came within 48 hours of execution.

[E] Troy Lee Jones (California) The California Supreme Court ruled in June, 1996 that Jones should have a new trial because he was not adequately defended at his original trial for the murder of Carolyn Grayson in 1981. The Court found that the defense attorney failed to conduct an adequate pretrial investigation, speak with possible witnesses, obtain a relevant police report, or seek pretrial investigative funds. Moreover, the attorney elicited damaging testimony against his own client during cross examination of a witness. The prosecution announced that it was dropping all charges against Jones in November, 1996, after he had been on death row for 14 years.

[F] Peter Limone (Massachusetts) Thirty -three years after being convicted and sentenced to death for a 1965 murder, Peter Limone's conviction has been overturned and the case against him officially dropped. The move came as a result of a Justice Department task force's discovery of compelling new evidence that Limone and his co-defendants Joseph Salvati, Henry Tamelo, and Louis Greco were actually innocent of the murder of Edward Deegan. In 1968, all four were convicted and Limone was sentenced to die in Massachusetts' electric chair, but was spared in 1974 when Massachusetts abolished the death penalty and his sentence were commuted to life in prison. Salvati, who was released from prison in 1997 when the governor commuted his sentence, received word from prosecutors that they were dropping the case against him as well. Tamelo and Greco both died in prison. At trial, the main witness against the four men was Joseph Barboza, a hit man cooperating with prosecutors, who later admitted that he had fabricated much of his testimony. The recently revealed FBI documents show that informants had told the FBI before the murder that Deegan would soon be killed and by whom, and a memorandum after the crime listed the men involved. Neither list included Limone, Salvati, Tamelo or Greco. (New York Times, 2/2/01 and Boston Herald, 1/21/01).

[G] Joe Spaziano (Florida) Spaziano survived numerous execution warrants despite very flimsy evidence in his case and substantial evidence of innocence, conviction was flipped in 1996 (twenty years after his conviction).

[H] Kirk Bloodsworth (Maryland) Bloodswoth was convicted and sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a young girl. Despite alibi witnesses, he was convicted primarily on the basis of faulty eyewitness identification. When it was discovered that the state failed to disclose exculpatory evidence, Bloodsworth received a new trial, and was given a life sentence. He was released after subsequent DNA testing confirmed his innocence.

[I] Roberto Miranda (Nevada) Miranda was released in September 1996 after the prosecution declined to retry him following the reversal of his conviction. Miranda had maintained his innocence through his 14 years on death row. He originally came to the U.S. from Cuba during the Mariel boatlift. Prosecutors originally offered him a plea bargain whereby he would serve as little as 10 years in prison, but he refused because he was innocent. One day after being released from death row with only the clothes on his back and a few belongings, he was incarcerated by the Immigration Service. He was subsequently released pending a deportation hearing. At trial, Miranda had been represented by an attorney with one year's experience who had inherited the case when his colleague died. In overturning his conviction, the judge wrote: "The lack of pretrial preparation by trial counsel . . . cannot be justified."

[J] Earl Washington (Virginia) Earl Washington suffers from mental retardation. After he was arrested on another charge in 1983, police convinced him to make a statement concerning the rape and murder of a woman in Culpeper in 1982. He later recanted that statement. Subsequent DNA tests confirmed that Washington did not rape the victim, who had lived long enough to state that there was only one perpetrator of the crime. The DNA results combined with the victim's statement all but exonerated Washington. Shortly before leaving office in 1994, Governor Wilder commuted Washington's sentence to life with the possibility of parole. In 2000, additional DNA tests were ordered and the results again excluded Washington as the rapist. In October 2000, Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore granted Earl Washington an absolute pardon.

Strong Cases of Innocence
Cases where a person has been executed despite a high likelihood of innocence:
[1] Roy Stewart (Florida): Stewart's conviction of the murder of a woman in 1979 rested almost solely on the testimony of a witness who testified that he had confessed the killing. Several years after the trial witness recanted stating that she gave her story for the sole purpose of avoiding a jail sentence herself for forgery and possession of marijuana. She was released from jail following her testimony at Stewart's trial and was paid a cash reward for her false story. Three state's Attorneys who prosecuted Stewart later came forward opposing the execution for lack of evidence. One of the state's Attorneys said, "The state completely botched the investigation of the scene. They threw away critical evidence. I came to learn... that they also had not pursued other defendants who had much more legitimate contact with the decedent than Mr. Stewart." However, even over the objections of the prosecuting attorneys, Roy Stewart was executed on April 22, 1994.

[2] Jesse Tafero (Florida) Tafero was sentenced to death along with Sonia Jacobs for the murder of two policemen at a highway rest stop in 1976. A third co-defendant received a life sentence after pleading guilty and testifying against Jacobs and Tafero. A childhood friend and filmmaker, Micki Dickoff, then became interested in Jacobs case. Jacobs's conviction was overturned on a federal writ of habeas corpus in 1992. Following the discovery that the chief prosecution witness had failed a lie-detector test, the prosecutor accepted a plea in which Jacobs did not admit guilt, and she was immediately released. Jesse Tafero, whose conviction was based on much of the same highly questionable evidence, had been executed in 1990, two years before the evidence of innocence had been uncovered.

[3] Willie Darden (Florida): Darden was convicted of the murder of a store owner during an attempted robbery. Alibi evidence later surfaced from two independent witnesses came to light in 1986. The witness stated that Darden could not have committed the murder. State and federal rules governing the discovery of newly discovered evidence following trial, however, prevented the evidence from ever being addressed in any court. Even before this new evidence emerged, the U.S. Supreme Court was bitterly divided over the case and upheld the conviction by a narrow five to four majority. The dissenting justices criticized the majority for being "willing to tolerate a level of fairness and reliability so low it should make conscientious prosecutors cringe." Darden was executed on March 15, 1988.

[4] David Spence (Texas): Spence, the prosecution argued, committed triple murder at the direction of Muneer Deeb, who the state claimed was a drug dealer. Deeb allegedly wanted several people dead and then presented evidence that linked the targets of the murder for hire to Deeb. The prosecution than argued that Spence killed the wrong people because he mistook them for the intended target. Someone other than Spence, Terry Harper, confessed to the crime on four separate occasions to four separate people including at least twice prior to the bodies being found. [fn 2] Under Texas evidentiary law at the time of trial the confession of a person not charged with the crime for which the accused is inadmissible and therefore the prosecution did not have to turn over the evidence. Following the trial, many, if not most, of the prosecution's jailhouse informants came forwarded and admitted either perjuring themselves or receiving some form of restitution for their testimony. Deeb, the person who supposedly hired Spence to do the killing, had his capital conviction reversed on appeal unrelated to innocence. At Deeb's new trial much of the evidence unearthed by Spence's legal team was used to obtain Deeb an exoneration. Spence was the -- execution under then Governor Bush. For more details see Bob Herbert's articles in the New York Times , as well as HBO's The Execution machine.

[5] James Adams (Florida) Adams was convicted of first-degree murder, sentenced to death, and executed in 1984. A witness who identified Adams as driving the car away from the victim's home shortly after the crime was later discovered that this witness was angry with Adams for allegedly dating his wife. A second witness heard a voice inside the victim's home at the time of the crime and saw someone fleeing. He stated this voice was a woman's; the day after the crime he stated that the fleeing person was positively not Adams. More importantly, a hair sample found clutched in the victim's hand, which in all likelihood had come from the assailant, did not mach Adams' hair. Much of this exculpatory information was not discovered until a skilled investigator a month before Adams' execution examined the case.

[6] Dawud Abdullah Muhammad (formerly David Junior Brown) (North Carolina) Prosecution withheld eyewitnesses and physical evidence from Mr. Muhammad, both during his trial and on appeal. Withheld for 14 years was also a statement by a witness who saw the victims alive during the time the prosecution theorized the murders were being committed. The prosecution a witness who could have testified that the victims' car had been moved around the time they were seen by the witness who had seen them alive. Two witnesses saw a man with long blonde hair jump from the balcony of the victims' apt. when the murders could have occurred, Dawud was black. A long blonde hair found at the crime scene was later lost. The trial was before an all white jury.

Cases of Probable Innocence

An additional set of cases are noted where a person has been executed despite evidence of probable innocence (the weight of the evidence is subject to dispute, although a strong case can be made for innocence). In at least once case below, an upgrade from probable to highly likely may occur before the issuance of the final report.
[7] Ellis Felker (Georgia) With in hours of his alleged victims disappearance Felker was the main suspect. He was put under police surveillance within hours of her disappearance, which occurred fourteen days before the discovery of her body in a creek. An autopsy then put her death within the previous five days. When the government realized that this would have ruled Felker out as a suspect because he had been under police surveillance for the previous two weeks, the findings of the autopsy were changed. Attorneys representing Felker during the appeals process showed notes and photographs of Ludlam's body to pathologists who unanimously concluded that she could not have been dead for longer than three days. Unfortunately, Felker discovered this information too late as Congress changed the standard of late round appeals just prior to Felker filing his last appeal. Felker was executed, however, the state of Georgia is actively fighting efforts to have Mr. Felker's body, and that of his victims, exhumed for scientific testing.

[8] Walter Blair (Missouri) Blair's claims of innocence were never heard because he presented them to late (successor habeas proceedings). Blair produced seven affidavits which had strongly suggested his factual innocence. Five of the affiants alleged that another man, Ernest Jones, admitted in their presence that he had killed the victim and framed Blair. Unlike Herrera's case (see below) these did not rely on hearsay, and there were no internal inconsistencies on the relevant points among the seven affidavits. There also was a plausible explanation for the delay in bringing forth the evidence as all seven affiants testified they feared Jones because they knew he previously had committed multiple murders. One affiant was a trial witness; her affidavit claimed that she had falsified her trial testimony at Jones' direction because she feared him. The petition also alleged prosecutorial misconduct, allegations, that were likewise never fully aired.

[9] Barry Fairchild (Arkansas) Fairchild sentenced to death in August 1983 for the kidnap, rape and shooting death of Marjorie "Greta" Mason. The conviction was based solely on a videotaped 'confession'. Blood, hair, and semen samples could not be linked to Fairchild. The 'confession' video shows Barry Fairchild's head wrapped in bandages, indicating he was subject to severe beating. Thirteen other black men were questioned by Pulaski County Sheriff Tommy Robinson and Deputy Larry Dill and also subjected to extreme physical and mental torture. Michael Johnson, questioned at the same time as Fairchild, states he heard Fairchild's screams and noises similar to beating using a baseball bat. Sheriff Tommy Robinson and Deputy Larry Dill denied ever using excessive force to obtain confessions. Two Federal Court judges, while upholding the death sentence, have ruled that Fairchild was not the actual killer.

[10] Larry Griffin (Missouri) Griffin was convicted for killing Quintin Moss in a drive-by shooting in St. Louis, Missouri on June 26, 1980. Griffin's lawyer was a recent law school graduate who had never tried a murder case. Griffin's untested lawyer did not call three eyewitnesses who would have been able to substantiate Griffin's claim of innocence. The state's primary witness later recanted his testimony and discredited his identification of Larry Griffin, claiming the had been "helped" in the identification process was highly prejudicial. The state's primary witness was promised a reduced sentence in exchange for his testimony. Larry Griffin's fingerprints were not found on either the car or the weapons. All other evidence against Griffin was circumstantial. The "actual innocence" standard imposed by the U.S. Supreme Court in reviewing state court decisions (see Herrera below)resulted in Griffin's actual innocence claims not being heard by the courts despite substantial evidence of innocence.

[11] Gary Graham (Texas) On May 13, 1981 at approximately 9:30 p.m., Bobby Grant Lambert was shot and killed, execution style, as he walked across the parking lot of a Safeway store in Houston, Texas. Gary Graham was arrested shortly after the murder for unrelated crimes, and was then charged with Lambert's murder, for which he was tried and convicted. No physical or circumstantial evidence placed Graham at the crime scene. The prosecution's case against Graham consisted almost entirely of the testimony of a single eyewitness who saw him through her car window from 30 to 40 feet away. In a reportedly suggestive identification procedure, this witness failed to identify Graham in a photo array. She subsequently identified him in a lineup in which he was the only person who also had been in the photo array. None of the other four eyewitnesses identified Graham as the killer or placed him at the crime scene. In the police line up, which included Graham, one eyewitness specifically excluded Graham. Graham's physical appearance differed in important respects from the descriptions provided by several witnesses. Two witnesses, who saw the man thought to be the killer at close range, have provided affidavits in which they assert that, having viewed Graham's photograph, they are positive that he was not the shooter. Graham's court appointed trial lawyer did not interview or present at trial the other eyewitnesses or Graham's alibi witnesses. One of the eyewitnesses has stated under oath that he has seen the person who shot Lambert at least twice since the murders on the streets of Houston. The Houston Police Department's firearms expert found that the bullet that killed the victim, although of the same caliber as Graham's gun, was not, and could not have been, from Graham's gun. Lambert, a white man, had faced federal drug trafficking charges in Oklahoma City after his arrest in 1980. He was forced to testify before a federal grand jury about the persons for whom he was transporting drugs. He was killed soon after he testified. Lambert's attorneys informed Graham's counsel before the execution that they had reason to believe that Lambert was killed by the drug organization with which he was involved. Evidence of Graham's innocence was never heard in a court of law.

[12] Girvies Davis (Illinois) Davis was convicted of the death of Charles Biebel. There were no witnesses to Mr. Biebel's the robbery/murder and there was no physical evidence at the crime scene to help identify the murderer. Despite the fact that Davis was illiterate, borderline mentally retarded and suffered from mental illness, he allegedly wrote a list of his crimes, confessing to more than a dozen other crimes, including eleven murders. This confession was the only evidence linking Davis to the crime. Before the trial, the prosecutor acknowledged that several of Davis's confessions appeared to be false. The prosecution acknowledged that Davis was not the triggerman in the Biebel killing, however, the alleged triggerman was never tried in relation to the murder. A jury from which all African Americans were systematically removed tried Davis, an African American.

[13]  Freddie Lee Wright (Alabama) Wright was convicted and executed for the murders of Warren and Lois Green. The Greens were a white couple & Wright black. The jury that sentenced him to death was all white. Wright's first trial ended in a mistrial with eleven out of twelve jurors voting to acquit. No physical evidence linked Wright to the crime. Wright's co-defendants testified against him in exchange for receiving lesser sentences. Two of those co-defendants later recanted. One named another man as the killer. The man who was originally arrested for the crime was never tried, even though his gun was identified as the murder weapon. The state would later admit that it withheld evidence relating to deals made with several of its witnesses as well as intentionally suppressing its star witness at the second trial. Two state Supreme Court justices voted to stay Wright's execution finding clear and convincing evidence of his innocence. Wright's attorney was subsequently disbarred.

Plausible Cases of Innocence

The last set of cases are executions where a person has been executed despite plausible evidence of innocence (the weight of the evidence is subject to dispute, although a case can be made for innocence). In several of the case below, an upgrade to possible to probable is likely before the issuance of the final report.
[14] Roger Coleman (Virginia) A case in constant controversy, evidence produced in the late innings of the appeal seemed to cast doubt on Coleman's guilt in the murder of Wanda McCoy and rather pointed to Donney and Michael Ramey, the former reportedly having admitted his guilt to three woman while brutally raping them in manner consistent with the manner in which the decedent was raped prior to her death. Nell Shortridge whose son was a friend of Donney and Michael Ramey, found a plastic garbage bag in the back of his pickup truck. Inside it he found a bloody sheet, a flashlight, a pair of scissors and two cowboy shirts. The sheet had "more blood than a person could lose without having to go to the hospital," said Nell Shortridge, who reported the bag and its contents to a county sheriff. But he said he never inquired further about the items and they were eventually thrown into a landfill.

[15] Joseph O'Dell (Virginia) Sperm found in the victim's body (Helen Schartner/44) had different genetic markers than O'Dell's. Other evidence used to bolster O'Dell's plea included the lack of physical evidence; evidence found at the scene -- cigarettes, footprints and tire tracks -- not matching O'Dell's personal effects; and an alleged confession to Schartner's murder by double murderer David Pruett, who was executed in December 1993. Evidence linking him to the murders, in light of a DNA test was a "3-probe DNA match between Schartner's blood and the bloodstains on (O'Dell's) blue jacket,'' however when studied by four expert witnesses for both the defense and prosecution and that the tests were ''found to be in error because. . . the procedure and test were outdated according to FBI standards.''

[16] Leonel Herrera (Texas) Herrera presented affidavits and exculpatory polygraph results from a variety of witnesses, including an eyewitness to the murder and a former Texas state judge, both of whom stated that someone else had committed the crime. However, the Supreme Court ruled that innocence alone does not justify a federal hearing on this evidence nor was federal habeas relief available for mere innocence.

[17] Robert Nelson Drew (Texas) Drew and another man were accused of murder. The second accused, Ernest Puralewski, was convicted of the murder and sentenced to 60 years' imprisonment. Puralewski later came forward with a signed affidavit in which he stated that he alone had been responsible for the crime: "I am the person who murdered Jeffrey Mays and Robert Drew is innocent." Robert Drew's lawyers sought a new hearing so that this late evidence could be considered on its merits, but their requests were turned down.

[18] Brian Baldwin(Alabama) Baldwin was executed despite compelling evidence of his innocence and evidence that he did not receive a fair trial. Forensic evidence discovered shortly before Baldwin's execution showed that the deadly blows were the work of a left-handed assailant, Baldwin was right handed. Years after Baldwin had been convicted and sentenced to death, Baldwin's co-defendant, Edward Horsley, confessed in a letter that he, alone, was responsible for the murder of Naomi Rolon and that Baldwin knew nothing about the killing until Rolon's body was discovered by police. Police are alleged to have repeatedly beat and intimidated Baldwin until he signed a confession. Baldwin's confession failed to name the correct weapon and failed to provide an accurate description of the murder. The confession was later altered to fit the facts, as revealed by Baldwin's co-defendant. Baldwin's trial lasted a total of one and one-half days, including jury selection, jury deliberation, and sentencing.

[19] Roy Michael Roberts (Missouri) Roberts was convicted of killing Thomas Jackson, a corrections officer a prison riot on July 3, 1983. Roy Roberts was accused of holding Jackson, while other inmates stabbed him. Numerous inmates testified at Roberts's trial that he was elsewhere during the riot. Roberts passed a polygraph test in which he attested to his innocence just weeks before his execution. Despite a very bloody and grisly murder no blood was found on Roberts clothing. Additionally, at least one witness against Roberts has admitted to perjuring himself in order to curry favor so as to gain parole.

[20] Richard Wayne Jones (Texas) Jones was convicted of abducting, robbing, and then murdering Tammy Livingston on February 19, 1986. After 12 hours of interrogation and 21 hours in custody without food or sleep, during which police exerted undue influence by threatening Jones and his pregnant girlfriend with the death penalty if he did not confess, Jones confessed. Three eyewitnesses to the abduction provided a description of the suspect as a clean-cut, white male with reddish-brown hair, who was wearing a red shirt the night of the murder. Jones had blonde hair, a mustache, and was wearing a brown and gray plaid shirt the night of the murder. According to Jones, his sister admitted to him that she and her boyfriend, Walt Sellers, committed the crimes. Despite the bloodiness of the murder, only two small spots of blood were found on Jones's jeans, and no blood was found on his shirt. From the time he was arrested, Jones maintained that Sellers was the actual killer. Two witnesses gave sworn statements that they heard Sellers implicate himself in the murder. Witnesses corroborated Jones's testimony that Sellers had tried to sell items belonging to the victim. Jones had an IQ of 75 and was considered borderline retarded. DNA testing was requested and denied prior to execution. Although there were three eyewitnesses, only one identified Jones in a police lineup. Jones, however, did not fit her original description of the abductor. The Fort Worth Police confiscated the dagger and had it in their locker room at the time of Jones's pre-trial investigation, but never subjected it to forensic testing. It was later destroyed. For more information on Mr. Jones's case, see Dan Malone, A Question of Guilt, Dallas Morning News, Aug. 3, 2000; and the court files in: Jones v. State (CCA No. 69,894); Ex parte Jones, (CCA No. 25,990); Jones v. State No. 05-91-00997 (Tex. App.-Dallas,1992).

[21] Odell Barnes, Jr. (Texas) Barnes was convicted in 1990 for the murder of Helen Bass. Eye-witnesses were harassed by police into retracting and changing their testimony, one of them stating that Odell was seen running from the scene of the crime at 10.30pm when in fact the victim was still at work until 11.30 the same night. The case presented much evidence of police interference and corruption of witnesses, of racial bias in the selection of jurors, and intimidation of defense lawyers. For further review of Mr. Barnes's case, see Bob Burton, Killing Time, Houston Post, , January 27, 2000; Sara Rimer & Raymond Bonner, Bush Candidacy Puts Focus on Executions, New York Times, May 14, 2000, at A1; and the court files in: Barnes v. State (CCA No. 70,858); Barnes v. State (CCA No. 71,291); Ex Parte Barnes (CCA No. 30,357); Barnes v. Johnson (5th Cir. 98-20504).

[22] David Stoker (Texas ) Stoker was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of David Manrrique. Of the three witness who testified against Stoker one has recanted his testimony (Thompson), one, a small time drug dealer, had charges dismissed for his corroboration (Todd) and the third, described by acquittances at the time as a "methamphetamine whore" who was given money for her testimony. The prosecution denied the existence of deal and cash for testimony until well after the trial and went so far as to testify under oath that neither existed. The prosecution witness, Thompson, who recanted his testimony has stated he testified against Stoker because the prosecutor had threatened him with a perjury conviction. Witness Todd had instigated the prosecution of Stoker by providing police with the murder weapon. Todd was the key witness, without whom, the state had no case. Todd himself was seen by two witnesses in possession of the pistol around the time of the murder. As one federal court of appeals judge noted during oral argument, in the final analysis it is just as likely that Todd committed the crime as it is that Stoker did. For more information on Mr. Stoker''s case, see Steve Mills, Ken Armstrong & Douglas Holt, Flawed Trials Lead to Death Chamber: Bush Confident in System Rife with Problems, Chicago Tribune, June 11, 2000; and the case files in: Stoker v. State (CCA No. 70,031); Stoker v. Collins (N.D. Tex. 5:92-CV-148); Stoker v. Scott (5th Cir. No. 94-11089).

[23] Derek Rocco Barnabei (Virginia) Barnabei was convicted and executed for the raping and murdering his girlfriend. The government argued Barnabei transported the victim's bloody body in his car but blood and other evidence not discovered in his car. Despite Barnabei's being sentenced to death, the Commonwealth of Virginia denied DNA testing of critical forensic evidence, including the victim's bloodstained fingernail clippings. Although the federal district court found on habeas corpus review that Barnabei's trial lawyer's work was woefully poor the court refused to order a new trial.

[24] Frank Basil McFarland (Texas) McFarland was convicted and executed for killing Terry Hokanson. The state withheld evidence regarding the victim's dying declarations at the crime scene: Three boys found her and two of these boys spoke with her. The one who did not was the only one to testify at trial. The two boys who spoke with the victim gave sworn oral statements and written statements just after the murder that were suppressed by the state and discovered seven years later through a Freedom of Information request. All three boys saw a white car in the area; only one testified and he mentioned a white car. Six state witnesses (5 police officers and one police dispatcher) testified that the boys said they saw a blue car, thereby perjuring themselves. McFarland's car was blue. DNA testing by an FBI specialist on hair found in the victim's hands was inconsistent with that of McFarland or his co-defendant. Semen found with the victim was consistent with McFarland and 6% of the Caucasian population in the U.S. The state's star witness had warrants out for his arrest for parole violation. The victim knew McFarland previous to the murder; she did not name him before she died, bolstering the defense position that her assailants were unknown to her. Defense counsel failed to present evidence that the victim knew McFarland previously, that McFarland's girlfriend also had a rabbit skin coat and had been in his car, and that two witnesses could have impeached star witness testimony. The hair from a rabbit skin coat found in McFarland's car could have been from the victim's coat. Semen in victim was consistent with McFarland and 6% of the Caucasian population in the U.S. The state's star witness had warrants out for his arrest for parole violation.

[25] Cornelius Singleton (Alabama) Singleton was convicted and executed for killing Sister Ann Hogan while praying in a cemetery. There was no physical evidence placing Singleton at the scene of the crime or linking him to the murder. Singleton had no connection to the victim and no motive. Eyewitnesses identified the man thought to be the killer as a white male with blonde hair. Singleton was an African-American man. No other suspects were investigated. Singleton had an IQ between 55 and 65. Singleton was taken to the cemetery where the murder took place and was questioned about details, despite his apparent lack of knowledge of the crime. According to Singleton, the victim's pager and some papers were on the ground and he was told to pick them up but refused. He was then returned to the police station where he was told to sign the confession. He could not read, but he signed the confession after being told that other charges pending against him would be dropped. In fact, no charges were pending. His girlfriend witnessed his signature. There was some blood on the victim's blouse and the outline of a hand with fingers pointing downward on the back of the blouse.

Other Cases of Note

Several additional cases do not fit readily into the mold cast above. Some are cases where the person was found not to be guilty of the circumstances that aggravated the murder to capital murder, only to be executed anyway (Thomas Thompson), others are cases of a "near miss" where a final outcome is still unknown (Curtis Kyles & Lloyd Schlup), and another still a case where the government, according to their own prosecutors, killed someone even though the person who actually committed the murder did not receive death (Jessie Jacobs)

[A] Thomas Thompson (California) Thompson was held to be innocent of the sole aggravating circumstance that made his murder capital by the renegade United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. That court upheld the murder conviction, but held he was innocent of the sole circumstance that under California's "special circumstances" law that made his crime eligible for the death penalty. The United States Supreme Court held that the appellate court had no right to hear evidence of innocence.

[B] Curtis Kyles (Louisana) Kyles whose case was reversed by the Supreme Court in 1995 and has now been retried twice with juries hanging both times. Kyles came within one vote on the United States Supreme Court of being executed. Granted liberty, he remains under the possibility of being retried.

[C] Lloyd Schlup (Missouri) Schlup had his conviction vacated earlier this year after the Supreme Court granted him the right to file a second habeas petition finding he had a colorable claim of innocence. The standard relied upon by the Court in Schlup's case for being able to file a second habeas petition was changed by congress shortly after the decision in that case -- under the new provisions Schlup would be dead as the new habeas bill upped the standard of innocence required to be able to file a second petition from "colorable claim" (roughly 50.1% chance of innocence) to "clear and convincing" (roughly 60-70% chance of innocence) a standard which all involved state Schlup had not met at the time of the stay proceedings, but was later able to produce. Schlup came within hours of execution. This case was subsequently pled out to time served.

[D] Jesse Jacobs (Texas) Jacobs had been convicted and sentenced to death after the state had put on evidence to show that he was the actual killer in an abduction ending in murder which also involved a co-defendant. At the later trial of the co-defendant, the state reversed its story and said it was the co-defendant, not Jacobs, who pulled the trigger. The DA who put him on the row later fought to get him off the row, but the state AG's office refused.

Other Cases
Cases in which no evaluation has been made as to the legitimacy of the claim of innocence includes:

Jackson, Tommy Ray (Texas)
Davis, Losada (Texas)
Anthony Westley (Texas) 
Eddie Johnson (Texas)
Jesse Jacobs (Texas)
Paul Nuncio (Texas)
Mason, Thomas (Texas)
Kenneth Ransom (Texas)
Richard Jones (Texas)
Johnny Anderson (Texas)
Billy Hughes (Texas)
Martin Sauceda Vega (Texas)
Carl Johnson (Texas)
Charles Boyd(Texas)
 Mack Hill (Texas)
Stacey Lawton(Texas)
Domingo Cantu (Texas)

* Karl Keys is a lawyer with extensive case involvement in death penalty litigation For the last three years he has been the editor of Capital Defense Weekly. Note that several additional names are being investigated and may be added to the list, including, David Stoker, executed by Texas.

[fn 1]The details of the other 90+ person unequivocally cleared of the murders for which the were sent to death row and how close they came to being executed are not discussed due to space/time limitations. For a complete listing of those convicted of a capital crime in the modern era for which they were later exonerated please visit http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/

[fn 2] The exact identity of the person making the confession has never been firmly established.


To be included in the study the claim of innocence had to accompanied by more than a naked assertion of innocence and mere possibility of innocence. Rather, the study focuses on summarily listing of information pointing to the innocence of several persons who have been executed Such naked assertions are noted in the final words of persons such as Stacey Lawton, Thomas Mason, Freddie Webb, and others. Where possible references are provided for additional information readily available on either the web or court documents.

Updated August 18, 2001

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