State v. Glen Edward Champman: NC Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin found that each of the lead detectives assigned to the case had covered up exculpatory evidence that pointed to Chapman’s innocence and covered up evidence that was inconsistent with the State’s theory of his guilt.
Photo Above: Mitigation Specialist Dr. Pam Laughon shows a phone message left for Hickory Police Detective Rhoney by a man who overheard someone else confess to Betty Jean Ramseur’s murder.
For Every Six People Executed In North Carolina, One Innocent Person Has Been Removed From Death Row.
The most compelling reason for a temporary halt on executions in North Carolina is that problems with the current capital punishment system are so widespread that there is the real possibility that an innocent person could be executed. The people in North Carolina have reason to fear that could happen. Under our current death penalty law, at least nine innocent people have been wrongfully convicted of first-degree murder – seven of their stories are below.
Levon “Bo” Jones: Sole Witness Accusing Jones of Murder Admits to Lying; Co-Defendant Larry Lamb Still Serving Life in Prison
Levon “Bo” Jones: Levon “Bo” Jones spent 14 years on Death Row after being wrongfully convicted for a 1987 murder. Jones, an African American man, sentenced to death in 1993 for the murder of Leamon Grady, a white man, always maintained his innocence. A federal judge ordered Jones off death row in 2006 and overturned his conviction, declaring that the defense provided by Jones’ initial defense attorneys was so poor that they missed critical evidence pointing to his innocence. After keeping him imprisoned in anticipation of a retrial, Duplin County District Attorney announced in April 2008 that the state was dropping all charges and Jones would be released.
The sole witness accusing Jones of the murder, Lovely Lorden, admitted in an affidavit that she “was certain that Bo did not have anything to do with Mr. Grady’s murder” and that she did not know what happened the night Grady was murdered.
Larry Lamb, a codefendant of Jones who has also always maintained his innocence, remains behind bars, serving a life sentence. Lamb turned down a plea offer of a six year sentence and was also convicted based on the testimony of Lorden. He plans to ask the newly formed North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission to review his case.
Glen Edward Chapman: Innocent Man Released after 15 Years on Death Row; Lying Police Officer Who Put Him There to be Prosecuted
On April 3, 2008, Glen Edward Chapman was released from on North Carolina’s death row after spending 15 years for crimes he did not commit. At the same time, Catawba County District Attorney James Gaither, Jr. announced that the police officer who lied to secure the conviction and death sentence would be prosecuted.
Chapman was sentenced to death for the 1992 murders of Betty Jean Ramseur and Tenene Yvette Conley in Hickory. In November 2007, Superior Court Judge Robert C. Ervin ordered a new trial for Chapman, citing withheld evidence, “lost, misplaced or destroyed” documents, the use of weak, circumstantial evidence, false testimony by the lead investigator, and ineffective assistance of defense counsel. Ervin also cited evidence that Ms. Conley may not have been murdered, but instead died of a drug overdose.
Jonathan Hoffman: State’s Key Witness Against Hoffman Awarded for Testimony
Jonathan Hoffman was sentenced to death in Union County for the 1995 shooting of jewelry store owner Danny Cook. No physical evidence linked Hoffman to the crime. Importantly, the State did not tell Hoffman’s jury that their star witness against him, Johnell Porter, was promised and later given significant rewards for his testimony. Porter received thousands of dollars, was never prosecuted for crimes he admitted to on the witness stand, and was given a reduced federal sentence for a bank robbery. In addition, the District Attorney’s notes were altered to omit a reference to setting up a deal for Porter; one copy contains the sentence “Meet with US Att. and get some concessions made to Porter in the event he testifies for us.” But a copy of the same notes, given to a judge and filed under seal, did not include that sentence.
Hoffman, a black man charged with killing a white man, was tried by an all-white jury. Though he was awarded a new court date in 2004 based on the State’s misconduct, he remained on Death Row until Union County District Attorney John Snyder dismissed capital murder charges in December 2007.
Alan Gell: State Hides Key Evidence of Innocence
Alan Gell spent nine years behind bars, more than four of them on death row awaiting his execution, for a 1995 murder in Bertie County. In 2002, over objections of the Attorney General’s office -- and while a five-part series on the case was running in The News & Observer -- a judge ordered a new trial because the Attorney General’s office had withheld compelling evidence of Gell’s innocence. Forensic experts agree the victim died at a time Gell could not have committed the murder. Seventeen witnesses said they saw the victim alive well after the only time Gell could have done it. Many of those statements, along with an audiotape showing that a key witness planned to frame Gell, were not shared with the defense during Gell’s trial, and he was sentenced to death.
The Attorney General’s office continued to seek Gell’s execution even after the evidence of his innocence was revealed. A judge threw out Gell’s conviction and Attorney General Roy Cooper decided to retry Gell for the murder. The jury in the second trial deliberated for less than three hours before finding Gell not guilty. On February 18, 2004, Alan Gell was released from prison after spending almost nine years in jail for a crime he did not commit.
Darryl Hunt: After 18 Years, DNA Matches True Killer
Darryl Hunt was tried and convicted twice of the 1984 rape and murder of Deborah Sykes. In his first trial, the state sought the death penalty, and the jury sentenced him to life. Hunt consistently maintained his innocence. In 1994, scientific advances allowed for DNA testing of evidence that revealed that the DNA of the rapist did not match Hunt’s. The State then changed its story insisting that there was more than one assailant, and that Hunt still could have killed her. Hunt remained in prison. In December 2003, shortly after the Winston-Salem Journal published an eight-part series, the DNA from the crime scene was finally run through a database and a match was found. A man who had been identified in a similar rape a few months after Sykes’ murder was arrested. He confessed to having committed the rape and murder alone, and apologized to Hunt and to the victim’s family. Hunt was exonerated on February 6, 2004, and formally pardoned by the Governor on April 15, 2004.
Jerry Hamilton: DNA Tests Point to Innocence
Jerry Hamilton has been behind bars since 1996, and spent more than six years on death row. His conviction and death sentence were overturned in April 2003 because the state withheld evidence of his innocence. The key witness against Hamilton was his codefendant, who made a deal with prosecutors and was sentenced to 12 years in prison after recanting his own confession. Crime scene DNA samples tested by the SBI after Hamilton’s trial match the codefendant and do not match Hamilton. There was no other physical evidence tying Hamilton to the crime. He is currently awaiting a new trial.
Charles Munsey: Records in State’s Possession Prove Key Witness Lied
Charles Munsey was sentenced to death in 1996. The state’s star witness was a jailhouse informant who said Munsey confessed to him when they were both in Central Prison. Prison records showed the informant was lying, that he was never at Central Prison with Munsey. State files that were finally turned over to the defense showed the prosecutor and the Attorney General’s office knew about those records. Even after another man confessed to the crime, the state continued to press for Munsey’s execution. A judge threw out the conviction and the state dropped the murder charge against Munsey, but he died in prison before he could be released.
In addition to Gell, Hamilton, and Munsey, Tim Hennis and Alfred Rivera were also sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit. Both were ultimately acquitted in retrials, Hennis in 1989, and Rivera in 1999.
The North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence investigates credible claims of innocence as well educating the community about problems in the criminal justice system that lead to wrongful convictions.
The Innocence Project is a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.
Additional Resources about Wrongful Convictions by The North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence:
- Wrongful Conviction and Innocence Resources on the Internet. A comprehensive collection of online resources.
- Dwyer, Jim, Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck. 2000. Actual Innocence: Five Days to Execution, and Other Dispatches from the Wrongfully Convicted. New York: Doubleday Books.
- Dwyer, Jim, Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck. 2003. Reprint. Actual Innocence: When Justice Goes Wrong and How to Make it Right. New York: New American Library.
- Humes, Edward. 2003 (paperback edition). Mean Justice. New York: Pocket Books. A gripping exposition of prosecutorial misconduct by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.
- Protess, David and Rob Warden. 1998. A Promise of Justice: The Eighteen-Year Fight to Save Four Innocent Men. New York: Hyperion Books.
- Radelet, Michael L, Hugo A. Bedau and Constance E. Putnam. 1994. In Spite of Innocence: Erroneous Convictions in Capital Cases. Boston: Northeastern University Press.
- Simon, Taryn. 2003. The Innocents. New York: Umbrage Editions. Over eighty photographs of former inmates who were exonerated through DNA testing; with commentary.
- Westervelt, Saundra D. and John A. Humphrey, eds. 2001 (paperback edition). Wrongly Convicted: Perspectives on Failed Justice. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press
- Crime Scene Investigation: A Guide for Law Enforcement 2000 National Institute of Justice report by the Technical Working Group on Crime Scene Investigation.
- Exonerations in the United State: 1989 Through 2003 A University of Michigan study led by Samuel R. Gross which examined 328 criminal convictions that subsequently resulted in exoneration.
- Post-Conviction DNA Testing: Recommendations for Handling Requests A 1999 report by the National Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence which was established by the National Institute of Justice at the request of then U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.
- Overturning Wrongful Convictions by Georgann Eubanks. A 2002 article on the Innocence Project at Duke University School of Law.
- PBS’ The Plea. explores the preponderance of plea bargaining in the criminal justice system.
- Report to the Attorney General on Delays in Forensic DNA Analysis 2003 National Institute of Justice Report.
- Stetler, R. (August 1999). Post-Conviction Investigation in Death Penalty Cases. National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Champion Magazine.
The Wrongfully Convicted
- Alan Gell: News & Observer articles on Mr. Gell’s retrial and acquittal after several years on Death Row.
- An Ordinary Crime website and video relating to North Carolina’s Terence Garner, who has subsequently been cleared of the crime and released from prison.
- Burden of Innocence website and video detailing the stories of several wrongfully convicted.
- Johnson Jr., Calvin C. and Greg Hampikian. 2003. Exit to Freedom. Athens: University of Georgia Press.
- Junkins, Tim. 2004. Bloodsworth: The True Story of the First Death Row Inmate Exonerated by DNA. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Press of Chapel Hill.
- Murder on a Sunday Morning An HBO film documenting the fact that even youth are not exempt from wrongful conviction.
- Murder, Race, Justice: The State vs. Darryl Hunt An exhaustive series by the Winston-Salem Journal tracing the wrongful conviction of Darryl Hunt, and the struggle through his 19 years of imprisonment to free him.
- Weinberg, Steve. (August 3, 2000). Railroaded. The American Lawyer.
- What Jennifer Saw PBS website regarding Ronald Cotton who was wrongfully convicted of rape in North Carolina.
- Weinberg, Steve. Anatomy of Misconduct: There’s Much to Learn When A Trial Goes Terribly Wrong Center for Public Integrity, June 26, 2003.
- _______. Breaking the Rules: Who suffers when a prosecutor is cited for misconduct? Center for Public Integrity, June 26, 2003.
- Buddhist Temple Massacre by Katherine Ramsland, Court TV’s crimelibrary.com
- Conti, R.P. (1999). The Psychology of False Confessions. The Journal of Credibility Assessment and Witness Psychology, 2, 14-36.
- Mills, S. & Higgins, M. (January 6, 2002). Cops Urged to Tape their Interrogations; City Videotapes Only Confessions. Chicago Tribune.
- Perina, A. (April 30, 2003). The False Confession. Psychology Today.
- Sullivan, T.P. (Summer 2004). Police Experiences with Recording Custodial Interrogations. A special report presented bv Northwestern University School of Law Center on Wrongful Convictions.