"US citizens should absolutely have the right to not be framed and it should be very illegal to frame anyone, especially for employees of the state." [...]
"Practically every story of wrongful conviction comes with a profoundly disturbing story of prosecutorial misconduct that would make any reasonable person want to put their fist through a wall. Adnan Syed, Richard Glossip, Crosley Green, Robert Jones, Darryl Hunt, Lamar Johnson, Julius Jones, Randall Dale Adams, Steven Avery ... I could go on, unfortunately, even if I were just naming cases they just made documentaries about." - Article by Robyn Pennacchia for the Wonkette.
Wrongful Convictions In Oklahoma
Oklahoma, like many other states in the United States, has had its share of wrongful convictions over the years. Here are just a few examples of wrongful convictions in Oklahoma. They serve as a reminder of the importance of fair and just criminal justice system, and the need to constantly review and reevaluate cases to ensure that justice is served.
How Do Wrongful Convictions Happen?
Wrongful convictions happen for a variety of reasons, but they often involve errors or misconduct within the criminal justice system. Here are some common factors that contribute to wrongful convictions:
Eyewitness Misidentification: Eyewitness testimony is often relied upon in criminal cases, but it can be unreliable due to factors such as poor lighting, stress, or memory distortion. Research has shown that eyewitness misidentification is a leading cause of wrongful convictions.
False Confessions: Sometimes innocent people confess to crimes they did not commit, either due to coercion, intimidation, or mental illness. False confessions can be difficult to overcome, as juries often view them as strong evidence of guilt.
Forensic Errors: Forensic evidence such as DNA, fingerprints, or ballistics can be powerful evidence in criminal trials, but it is not infallible. Mistakes can be made in the collection, analysis, or interpretation of forensic evidence, leading to wrongful convictions.
Police and Prosecutorial Misconduct: Police and prosecutors have a duty to uphold the law and protect the rights of suspects, but they can also engage in misconduct such as fabricating evidence, coercing witnesses, or withholding exculpatory evidence. This type of misconduct can lead to wrongful convictions.
Inadequate Legal Representation: Defendants who cannot afford their own attorneys are often provided with court-appointed attorneys who may not have the time, resources, or expertise to mount an effective defense. This can result in wrongful convictions if key evidence is not challenged or if alternative suspects or theories are not investigated.
Overall, wrongful convictions are a tragic and all-too-common occurrence that can have devastating consequences for innocent people and their families. It is important for the criminal justice system to constantly strive for fairness, accuracy, and accountability to minimize the risk of wrongful convictions.
How Can Wrongful Convictions Be Prevented?
By implementing these measures, we can work to prevent wrongful convictions and ensure that our criminal justice system is fair and just for all.
Ensuring fair and impartial trials: Prosecutorial misconduct, judicial bias, and inadequate jury instructions can all lead to wrongful convictions. Ensuring that trials are fair and impartial can help prevent wrongful convictions. This involves Oklahoma Judges, the Oklahoma Bar Association, and the Public holding prosecutors accountable when they commit misconduct.
Improving police training: Police misconduct, including coercion of confessions, is a common cause of wrongful convictions. Improving police training on interrogation techniques and constitutional rights can help prevent wrongful convictions.
Creating conviction integrity units: Conviction integrity units are specialized units within prosecutor's offices that are tasked with reviewing past convictions to ensure that they were obtained fairly and justly. These units can help prevent future wrongful convictions by identifying and addressing issues that led to past wrongful convictions.
Improving the quality of forensic evidence: The use of unreliable or inaccurate forensic evidence can lead to wrongful convictions. Improving the quality and reliability of forensic evidence can help prevent wrongful convictions.
Strengthening eyewitness identification procedures: Eyewitness identification is often unreliable, and mistaken eyewitness identification has led to many wrongful convictions. Strengthening eyewitness identification procedures by using double-blind lineup techniques, having trained administrators conduct lineups, and ensuring that witnesses are aware of the potential for false identification can help prevent wrongful convictions.
Providing adequate legal representation: Many individuals who are wrongfully convicted do not have adequate legal representation. Providing access to competent and experienced legal counsel for all defendants, regardless of their financial resources, can help prevent wrongful convictions.
Increasing access to DNA testing: DNA testing has proven to be a powerful tool for exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals. Increasing access to DNA testing can help prevent wrongful convictions.
Cases of Wrongful Conviction in Oklahoma
Jimmy Lee Baker 2008 - EXONERATED 2010
Prosecutor: Matt Stubblefield (ADA) for District 19 in 2008.
Jimmy Lee Baker was convicted of Assault and Battery with a Dangerous Weapon after two or more felony convictions (Count II) and Malicious Injury to Property (Count III) in the District Court of Bryan County, Oklahoma [CF-2008-399] and sentenced to life in prison.
On appeal Baker alleged that he was denied a fair trial and due process of law due to the failure of the prosecution to disclose impeachment evidence on the State's key witness (aka: a Giglio Violation); highly prejudicial testimony, and ineffective counsel.
In June of 2010 his case was remanded back for a new trial by the O.C.C.A. after it was found that the state failed to disclose their witness' pending drug charges, plea agreement, and prior felony conviction contrary to Brady v. Maryland. On December 9, 2010, the prosecution dismissed the charges against Baker and he was released from prison. More about this case can be read here...
Richard E. Glossip 1998 - PENDING US SUPREME COURT REVIEW
Richard Glossip is a former hotel manager who was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death in Oklahoma in 1998 for the murder of his boss, Barry Van Treese. Glossip maintained his innocence and claimed that he was framed by the actual killer, Justin Sneed, who was a maintenance worker at the hotel where Glossip worked. Sneed had confessed to the murder and implicated Glossip as the mastermind behind the crime.
Currently the world is waiting for SCOTUS to decide if they will hear his case, after granting a stay of execution in May of 2023
Many Oklahoma State Officials were involved in varying degrees of misconduct through out the history of Glossip TWO murder trials. Read more...
Julius Jones 1999 - Death Sentence commuted to Life in Prison.
Prosecutors: Sandra Howell-Elliott;
Julius Jones was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of Paul Howell, a businessman in Edmond, Oklahoma, in 1999. The lead prosecutor in his case was Bob Macy. Jones has maintained his innocence and has presented evidence to support his claim. The case against Jones was largely based on the testimony of a co-defendant, who received a plea deal in exchange for testifying against Jones. There are also allegations of racial bias in the jury selection process and other irregularities in the investigation and trial.
The case has garnered national attention, with many people, including celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, activists, and legal experts, calling for a new trial and for Jones' execution to be stopped. Such advocacy and public pressure in 2021 resulted in Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt barricading himself in the Governor's Mansion just prior to commuting Jones' sentence form death to life in prison without parole.
De'Marchoe Carpenter 1994 - EXONERATED 2016
De'marchoe Carpenter, was wrongfully convicted for a double murder that occurred in 1994 when he was only 17 years old. He and three other men were accused of the crime based on witness testimonies, but there was no physical evidence linking Carpenter to the murders.
During the trial, Carpenter maintained his innocence, stating that he was not involved in the crime. Despite the lack of concrete evidence, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Over the years, new evidence emerged, and witnesses came forward to recant their testimonies, casting doubt on Carpenter's guilt. In 2016, after spending more than 20 years behind bars, his case gained the attention of the Oklahoma Innocence Project and other organizations dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals.
With the help of these organizations, new DNA testing was conducted, which excluded Carpenter as the source of DNA found at the crime scene. The DNA evidence, along with the recantations and other inconsistencies in the case, led to his exoneration in October 2016.
De'marchoe Carpenter was finally released from prison as a free man after two decades of wrongful imprisonment. His case highlighted the flaws in the justice system and the importance of thorough investigations to prevent wrongful convictions.
Carpenter was represented by Oklahoma County's current District Attorney, Vickie Behenna, during her time at Oklahoma Innocence Project.
Corey Atchison 1991 - EXONERATED 2019
Corey Atchison, and his brother, Malcolm Scott, were wrongfully convicted for a murder he did not commit in Oklahoma. The case involved the shooting death of James Lane in 1990. Atchison was only 20 years old at the time of the incident and was accused of being the shooter. Tulsa County (CF-1991-691).
The wrongful conviction was primarily based on the testimonies of two key witnesses who claimed to have seen Atchison commit the crime. However, there were significant issues with the reliability of their testimonies. One of the witnesses later recanted, stating that he had been coerced by the police to identify Atchison as the perpetrator. A witness later came forward that they were coerced by the police.
Additionally, there were allegations of misconduct by law enforcement and inadequate legal representation during the trial. Atchison's defense team failed to present crucial evidence and witnesses that could have supported his innocence. Atchinson later sued the City of Tulsa for framing him...
"Plaintiff alleges that officers of the Tulsa Police Department, the defendants Robert Jackson, Gary Meek, Ken Makinson, Fred Parke, Jack Putnam, Scott Rogers, Michael Eubanks, S.M. Irwin, Harold “Bear” Wilson, and others (collectively “Defendants”), “framed Plaintiff for a 1990 murder after Plaintiff's only connection to the crime was having the decency to stop his car when he saw that someone had been shot, try to help, and urge passersby to call 911.” Atchison v. City of Tulsa, No. 21-CV-286-TCK-SH, (N.D. Okla. Mar. 7, 2022).
After serving more than 28 years in prison, Atchison's case gained public attention, and several organizations, including the Innocence Project, worked to investigate the matter further. New evidence emerged that pointed to his innocence, and it became increasingly apparent that he was not involved in the crime.
Eventually, in a significant development, Corey Atchison's conviction was overturned, and he was released from prison as a free man. The case shed light on the flaws within the criminal justice system and the importance of ensuring a fair and thorough investigation to avoid wrongful convictions.
Jeffrey Todd Pierce 1985 - EXONERATED 2001
Prosecutors: Bob Macy;
Jeffrey Todd Pierce was prosecuted in Oklahoma by the District Attorney's Office of Oklahoma County. The lead prosecutor in his case was Bob Macy. Macy did not seek the death penalty in Pierce's case, but he secured a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Pierce was convicted based largely on circumstantial evidence and the testimony of witnesses who were given leniency in their own criminal cases in exchange for testifying against him. At Trial, Joyce Gilchrist testified to hair analysis against Pierce. He had been found guilty despite a clean record and plausible alibi largely because of Gilchrist's analysis of hair at the crime scene.
Her analysis was later disputed in a 2001 FBI review and DNA testing was then conducted on evidence, conclusively proving that Pierce was innocent. It was then discovered that another man was the likely perpetrator. Based on this new evidence, Pierce was exonerated and released from prison in 2018 after serving 20 years behind bars. Pierce lost 15 years, of his marriage, and the chance to see his twin boys grow up due to the misconduct of Macy & Gilchrist.
Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot 1984 - Conviction REINSTATED - Still fighting!
In 1984, Denice Haraway, a convenience store clerk, was kidnapped and murdered in Ada, Oklahoma. Two men, Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot, were convicted of the crime and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. However, in 2016, after new evidence came to light, a federal judge ordered a new trial for the two men. They were eventually released in 2019, after spending more than 30 years in prison.
A state judge in 2020 vacated Ward's conviction but the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals reinstated the conviction in August of 2022.
Dennis Fritz 1982 - EXONERATED 1999
Famous from the Netflix Series "The Innocent Man" by John Grisham...
Dennis Fritz was wrongfully convicted in Oklahoma for the 1982 murder of Debbie Carter, a crime that occurred in Ada, Oklahoma. The case relied heavily on a coerced confession and questionable testimony.
In 1987, Fritz and Ron Williamson were tried separately for the same crime. The prosecution's case against Fritz was based on the confession of Ron Williamson, who himself had been wrongfully convicted for the murder. Williamson's confession implicated Fritz as his accomplice, leading to Dennis Fritz's conviction.
However, there were serious issues with the evidence and investigation. Both Fritz and Williamson maintained their innocence throughout the trial. The confession obtained from Williamson was later discredited as false, and DNA testing did not link either Fritz or Williamson to the crime scene.
Despite these problems, Fritz was sentenced to life in prison for the murder. His case caught the attention of The Innocence Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals.
In 1999, new evidence came to light that further undermined the case against Fritz. The DNA testing excluded him as the source of semen found at the crime scene. This development, along with other discrepancies in the original investigation, led to Fritz's exoneration.
After spending over a decade in prison for a crime he did not commit, Dennis Fritz was finally released in April 1999. His case highlighted the importance of rigorous investigations, proper legal representation, and the use of DNA evidence to prevent wrongful convictions.
Ron Williamson 1982 - EXONERATED 1999
Famous from the Netflix Series "The Innocent Man" by John Grisham...
"Williamson had, at one point, come within five days of execution." - Innocence Project
Ron Williamson, along with co-defendant, Dennis Fritz, was wrongfully convicted in Oklahoma for the 1982 murder of Debbie Carter, a local waitress. The case was largely built on unreliable witness testimonies, coerced confessions, and flawed forensic evidence.
At the time of the crime, Williamson was a former minor league baseball player suffering from mental health issues. His mental state was not adequately considered during the investigation and trial, leading to a questionable confession that he later recanted, claiming it was coerced by law enforcement.
The prosecution presented hair analysis as a crucial piece of evidence during the trial, linking Williamson to the crime scene. However, it was later revealed that the forensic testimony was inaccurate and misleading. DNA testing conducted years later confirmed that the hairs did not belong to Williamson, raising significant doubts about his guilt.
Despite these flaws and doubts, Williamson was convicted and sentenced to death. He spent 11 years on death row before further investigations by journalists, combined with the emergence of new evidence, raised serious doubts about his guilt. Eventually, the Oklahoma Innocence Project worked on his case, and DNA evidence ultimately led to his exoneration.
In 1999, Ron Williamson was released from prison after spending over a decade on death row for a crime he did not commit. His case highlighted the dangers of relying on unreliable evidence, the importance of proper legal representation, and the need for reforms in the criminal justice system to prevent wrongful convictions. Tragically, Ron Williamson's mental and physical health had severely deteriorated during his time in prison, and he passed away in 2004, a few years after his release.
Curtis Edward McCarty 1982 - EXONERATED 2007
Curtis Edward McCarty was prosecuted in Oklahoma by the Oklahoma County District Attorney's Office. The lead prosecutor in his case was Bob Macy. He was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of an Oklahoma City woman in 1982. He spent more than 21 years on death row before being exonerated in 2007.
The case against McCarty was based largely on flawed forensic evidence and the testimony of a jailhouse informant who later recanted. At trial in March 1986, the prosecution relied on the testimony of Joyce Gilchrist, an Oklahoma City Police chemist, who said that hairs from the crime scene belonged to McCarty. Relying on the hairs as evidence, Gilchrist said McCarty “was in fact” at the crime scene. She also testified that McCarty’s blood type matched the blood type of sperm found on the victim’s nude body. Macy was found to have committed misconduct in presenting the case to the jury and withholding key evidence. The jury convicted McCarty and he was sentenced to death.
After years of legal battles, DNA testing conducted in 2001 proved McCarty's innocence, and he was finally released from prison in 2007. Despite the lack of physical evidence linking McCarty to the crime, Macy pushed for his conviction and secured a death sentence.
The case highlighted the problem of wrongful convictions and the need for reforms in the criminal justice system to prevent such injustices from happening in the future.
Glynn Simmons 1975 - EXONERATED 2023
Don Roberts and Glynn Ray Simmons were charged in the District Court, Oklahoma County, for the offense of Murder in the First Degree. They were convicted by the jury and sentenced to death. In 1977, his sentence was reduced to life in prison as a result of a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
The state claimed that Simmons was responsible of the murder and assault & battery of two women during an Oklahoma City liquor store robbery. Several witnesses testified at Simmon's trial that he was not on the scene, or even in the state, at the time of the shooting. Yet he was still convicted, based on the testimony of one witness, a woman who was also shot and injured during the store robbery in question.
The state withheld evidence from the defense that their "eye witness" had identified alternative suspects in as many as nine prior police line-ups. A second eyewitness refused to identify Simmons and his attorney failed to call her as a defense witness. Simmon's public defender made no effort to impeach the state's witness and would later be disbarred due to incompetence.
Prosecutor: District Attorney Curtis Harris, Oklahoma County [District 7].