More than 5,740,000 pageviews from 160 countries


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Randall Dale Adams: An Innocent Man

     In June 2011, a 61-year-old man who had been living a quiet life in a central Ohio town, died without much notice. His name was Randall Dale Adams, and in the history of 20th Century criminal justice--or rather injustice--he was a towering figure. The Adams case perfectly illustrates the doleful saying: "Any prosecutor can convict a guilty defendant, it takes a great prosecutor to convict an innocent one."

     On November 27, 1976, Adams, a 27-year-old manual laborer with no history of crime or violence, while walking along a street in Dallas, Texas after his car had run out of gas, met 16-year-old David Ray Harris. Harris, a kid from Vidor, Texas who had aleady been in trouble with the law, was driving a car he had recently stolen. Harris offered Adams a ride.

     After getting into the stolen car with Harris, Adams and his new acquaintance drank some beer, smoked marijuana, and took in a movie called "Swinging Cheerleaders" at a drive-in theater. Shortly after midnight, on November 28, Harris, while driving the blue sedan with its headlights off with Adams in the front passenger's seat, was pulled over by two officers in a Dallas patrol car. As patrolman Robert Wood approached the driver's side of Harris' vehicle, Harris, using a handgun he had stolen from his father, shot officer Wood five times, killing him on the spot. The dead officer's partner, Teresa Turko, fired at the car as Harris sped off. None of her bullets hit the fleeing vehicle. Officer Turko was certain the man who had shot her partner was the only person in the car.

     After dropping Adams off at his place of residence in Dallas, Harris drove southeast 300 miles to his parents' house in Vidor. During the next several days Harris bragged to his friends that he had "offed a pig" in Dallas. This drew the attention of the local police who recovered the pistol Harris had stolen from his father. Through ballistics analysis a firearms expert identified this gun as the murder weapon. Detectives also gave Harris a polygraph test which he failed. At first Harris denied any knowledge of the shooting, but after the ballistics report, and the lie detector results, he fingered Randall Adams, a hitchhiker he had picked up in Dallas, as the cop killer.

     Following a police interrogation in Dallas in which Randall Adams identified David Harris as the police shooter, he passed a polygraph test with that account. The Dallas County District Attorney, Norm Kinne, decided not to prosecute Harris. Kinne didn't want to prosecute David Ray Harris because, at age 16, he was too young for the electric chair.

     At Adams' May 1977 murder trial, prosecutor Kinne manufactured incriminating evidence in the form of three eyewitnesses who testified they had ridden by the shooting scene just as officer Wood approached the blue car. Although it was dark and the inside of the stolen car was unlit, the three witnesses identified Randall Adams as the driver of the stopped vehicle. These identifications were patently ridiculous and obviously motivated by something other than the truth. Two of the eyewitnesses, a husband and wife team, were looking for a piece of the $21,000 reward. The other witness had a daughter in trouble with the law. After the Adams trial the charges against her daughter were dropped. All three of these prosecution witnesses, bought for and coached, committed perjury. Officer Turko took the stand, and while admitting she hadn't seen the shooter clearly, said his hair was the same color as the defendant's.

     Randall Adams took the stand on his own behalf and proclaimed his innocence. The prosecutor and the defense attorney made their closing arguments and the case went to the jury. Without taking much time to deliberate the jurors found the defendant guilty of murdering officer Robert Wood. This led to the penalty phase of the trial which involved the determination of whether or not there was a probability that the convicted man would, if given a life sentence, commit future acts of violence.

     District Attorney Norm Kinne put two expert (so-called) witnesses on the stand who testified that Randall Adams was still a dangerous man. The fact that Adams was innocent and had no history of violence proved that both of these psychiatrists were bogus prosecution hacks. The first of these thoroughly corrupt experts to take the stand, Dr. John Holbrook, had been the chief of psychiatry with the Texas Department of Corrections. (This alone should have disqualified him as an unbiased witness.) The second, a creepy shrink named Dr. John Grigson, after having spoken to Randall Adams fifteen minutes, told the jurors that Adams was qualified to be electrocuted. Dr. Grigson's testimony was so predictably prosecution friendly--he had testified in more than 100 trials that ended in death sentences--defense attorneys around the state called him "Doctor Death." (According the American Psychiatric Association, then and now, future dangerousness is impossible to predict.)

     Relying on corrupt and erroneous psychiatric testimony pertaining to an innocent man, the Dallas County jury voted to sentence Randall Adams to death.

     In January 1979, the Texas Court of Crimminal Appeals affirmed Adams' conviction and death sentence. A judge sentenced Adams to die on May 8 of that year. On May 5, three days before his date with the electric chair, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a stay of execution. The governor of Texas, Bill Clements, decided to commute Adams's sentence to life in prison.

     While Randall Adams sat in prison, David Harris, the man who had murdered officer Wood, joined the Army. While stationed in Germany, Harris committed a series of burglaries that led to a stretch in the federal prison at Leavenworth, Kansas. After his release from Leavenworth, Harris moved to California where he committed several kidnappings and robberies. In 1985, Harris was back in Texas where, in Beaumont, he murdered a man. A year later, a jury sentenced Harris to death. Had Harris been convicted of killing officer Wood, he wouldn't have had the opportunity to kill the Beaumont man.

     In 1988, producer Errol Morris made a documentary about the Adams case called "The Thin Blue Line." In the film, Morris exposed the prosecution's eyewitnesses as liars, and Dr. John Grigson as a courtroom fraud. A year later, following the airing of the documentary, Dallas District Court Judge Larry Baraka, following a 3-day hearing on the Adams case, recommended to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that Randall Adams be granted a new trial.

     On March 1, 1989, the appeals court, in an unanimous 27-page opinion that cited gross prosecutoral wrongdoing, ordered a new trial. Three weeks later, the Dallas County District Attorney (not Kinne) dropped all charges. Randall Adams, after twelve years behind bars, walked free. Because he had not been pardoned by the governor, Adams was not eligible for the $25,000 he would have otherwise been awarded.

     In 2004, the state of Texas executed David Harris for the 1985 murder in Beaumont. Before he died, Harris admitted shooting officer Wood to death.

     Except for the occasional reairing of "The Thin Blue Line," the Randall Adams case is almost forgotten. But it shouldn't be forgotten because it reminds us of how much damage "a great" prosecutor can do.    

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Governor Haley Barbour And His Pardons of Dangerous Criminals

     In January 2012, in his last days in office, Haley Barbour, the two-term Republican governor of Mississippi, granted pardons to 208 prisoners. Among those released were inmates who had been convicted of murder, manslaughter, rape, and aggravated assault. Forty-one of those pardoned were behind bars because they had killed someone. Five of the freed men had been working at the governor's mansion as trusties. Two of them had murdered their wives, and another had killed a man during a robbery. These were not white collar criminals, they were dangerous men. And none of them had been pardoned because they had been wrongfully tried, or were innocent.

     News of Barbour's puzzling and disturbing show of clemency to so many violent criminals stunned the families of the people these inmates had victimized. That shock soon turned to outrage. People were asking why convicted murderers were working at the governor's home in the first place, and why Barbour had felt compelled to set so many of them free. Didn't he have any regard for the nature of their crimes, and the feelings of their victims? Southern conservatives were supposed to be tough on criminals. Had this politician lost his mind? Mississippi legislators were now looking into restricting the governor's pardoning powers.

     One of the inmates Barbour pardoned, David Glenn Gatlin, had good reason to believe he would never walk free. In 1994, a jury found Gatlin, then 23, guilty of murder, aggravated assault, and burglary. Gatlin had walked into the home of his estranged wife and shot her in the head as she held their 6-week-old child. She died on the spot. Gatlin then turned his gun on Randy Walker, and shot him in the head. Walker survived the assault, but is still dealing with the consequences of the head wound.

     The trial judge, who obviously wanted Gatlin to spend the rest of his life behind bars (and not working a cushy job at the governor's house), sentenced him to life on the murder verdict, plus 20 years for aggravated assault on Randy Walker. The judge added another 10 years for the burglary. Had Randy Walker died from the bullet Gatlin had fired into his head, Gatlin would have been eligible for the death sentence. Modern medicine, and a skilled emergency room surgeon, had saved Gatlin from death row, and a future lethal injection.

     David Gatlin not only didn't feel bad about murdering his wife and trying to kill Randy Walker, he promised, if he ever got out of prison, to finish the job on Walker. Thanks to Governor Haley Barbour, Gatlin would get the chance. If he actually carried out this threat, it would be appropriate to send Governor Barbour to prison to finish out Gatlin's sentence. Perhaps Barbour would end up back at the Governor's mansion where, instead of pardoning dangerous killers, he'd be trimming the shrubbery and cutting the grass.

    After the release of documents from the Mississippi Attorney General's Office, it became clear that Governor Haley Barbour had done more than just release killers back into society. He and his wife Marsha had made sure that two of them, David Gatlin and another mansion trusty, could drive away from prison in their own cars.

     On the morning of January 6, 2012, two days before Gatlin and a trusty named Charles Hooker were scheduled for release, Marsha Barbour called a nearby car dealership to arrange the purchase of two used cars for the inmates. A member of the governor's staff had already helped the men acquire their driver's licenses. That afternoon, a staff member drove Gatlin and Hooker, in a state car, to the lot where Hooker purchased a 2007 Ford Focus, and Gatlin a Chevrolet HHR. The inmates used certified checks drawn on Bank Plus to purchase the vehicles. Two days later, the inmates' cars were delivered to the governor's mansion.

     The documents pertaining to the preferential treatment of these murderers did not reveal how these men obtained their bank accounts. Moreover, there were no documents showing who actually paid for the cars. Governor Barbour and his wife, as well as members of the former governor's staff, were not talking, except to say that no laws had been broken.