Category Archives: Alabama

Toforest Johnson

Just after midnight on July 19, 1995, Jefferson County, Ala., deputy William Hardy was moonlighting as a security guard for the Crown Sterling Suites hotel in Birmingham.  Around 12:30 a.m., Hardy must have heard something in the parking lot that got his attention, because he stepped away from his post to investigate, and was shot dead.

At the time William Hardy was killed, Toforest Johnson, then 22, and his friend Ardragus Ford, 21, were partying at a nightclub called Tee’s Place on the other side of Birmingham. Johnson’s appellate attorneys would later provide 10 witnesses who saw him at the club.

Over the next few years, six young black men and one black girl would be arrested for crimes associated with Hardy’s murder. Four were charged. Two were tried — one was acquitted;  Johnson was convicted and sentenced to die.

Law enforcement officials threatened witnesses with incarceration and the loss of custody of their children if they didn’t tell authorities the story they wanted to hear.

Yolanda Chambers, age 15,  was threatened with arrest if she did not implicate anyone, and was responsible for Johnson’s arrest. At one point, prosecutors themselves conceded that since William Hardy’s murder, Chambers had told more than 300 lies about who was involved and what she knew. Chambers was never a credible witness, she told many different stories and at various points admitted she knew nothing.

At trial, the principle prosecution witness was Violet Ellison who claimed to have heard a phone confession from an inmate who identified himself over the telephone as Toforest ( who she did not know ). This alleged confession allegedly occurred the day after a $10,000 reward was announced by the governor. In 2003, Johnson’s appellate attorneys learned that the state of Alabama paid Ellison $5,000 in 2001 for her assistance to the prosecution. DA David Barber wrote that Ellison came forward “pursuant to the public offer of a reward.” even though the jury was told she came forward solely because of “her conscience” and so that she “can sleep at night.”

At Johnson’s first trial, the jury hung. After a second trial he was convicted and sentenced to death.

Full Article here :

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Sylvester Davis

Sylvester Davis Jr., was convicted of killing his girlfriend Yamisha Thomas of Columbus.

Davis, 32, was sentenced as a habitual offender to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole in the death of Thomas.

Court testimony shows that Davis had been with Thomas on April 23, 2011, the day before she was reported missing. Davis first told Thomas’ mother that he too had been looking for the 30-year-old woman, but he later changed his story.

During an investigation, police recovered Thomas’ abandoned 2006 Chevy Avalanche in Columbus and later noted that Davis had a mark on his face as though he had been in a struggle.

A break in the search for Thomas came when Alabama Bureau of Investigation agents were questioning jail inmate Jerry Wayne Foster, who worked for Davis at a detail shop in Phenix City. Foster told authorities that Davis picked him up on the evening of April 23, went to the Summerplace Drive rental home where the couple once stayed and drove her red Avalanche to a hospital in Columbus.

Davis took Foster to Thomas’ body and sought help to conceal it but he refused. As he walked away, Foster spotted what appeared to be a body wrapped in a sheet. It had feet exposed with toenails painted.

Foster returned to Tuskegee, Ala., where he was to face unrelated felony charges on outstanding warrants. While in the Macon County Jail, he told the ABI agents about a body in Phenix City and said he could lead them to the remains. Thomas’ body was found in a shallow grave on May 23, 2011, in a wooded lot off Third Street South in Phenix City. Her body was beneath a mattress lying on the ground.

Source: News report

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Marcus and Brandon Wallace

tdvquerphmnjxoz-800x450-nopadMarcus and Brandon Wallace, along with a friend, Keidric McKinstry, were all accused of opening fire and killing an innocent bystander at Creekside Village Apartments on June 8, 2010. A jury found Brandon Wallace, 24, guilty during a trial held in October 2011. Marcus Wallace, 29, pleaded guilty to manslaughter 10 months later.

Investigators arrested the Wallaces and McKinstry after witnesses said they saw them fire shots. “They got the wrong information when they arrested my son. They got the wrong two boys,” said Mable Wallace, Marcus Wallace’s mother.

In October 2013, attorneys for Marcus filed paperwork to withdraw his guilty plea, and the attorney for Brandon Wallace filed documents requesting a new trial.

Both claimed that witnesses who could have proven alibis were never called to testify. The attorney for Marcus Wallace presented affidavits from family members, who said they had a voice mail of another family member admitting to the shooting that attorneys did not introduce in court.

Co-defendant Keidric McKinstry pleaded guilty to the murder in March 2012 and is now serving a 21-year sentence at Ventress Correctional Facility. He hand-wrote and signed an affidavit filed in October 2013 stating that Brandon Wallace was not with him the night of the shooting and that his attorney wouldn’t allow him to speak about that before he was convicted.

Another affidavit filed by one of the shooting victims stated that he did not see Brandon Wallace at the apartment complex that night. Both are willing to testify under oath that Brandon Wallace was not there, Birmingham attorney David Gespass said.

An attorney representing Marcus Wallace also filed several affidavits signed by friends and family members who say they were with Marcus that night.

His mother, aunt, cousin and a friend stated that he was home watching the NBA playoff game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics. He only left the apartment once, after borrowing his aunt’s house shoes and 50 cents to buy a cigarette from a neighbor, they stated.

The women also said that they have a recording from another family member admitting that he and another friend actually committed the murder and hid the weapons. The attorney representing Marcus at the time did not offer that voice mail as evidence and did not present witness statements that they say would have confirmed his alibi.

Marcus Wallace’s attorney wrote that he only pleaded guilty because he was told he could receive a life sentence if a jury found him guilty.

Source : News Report, October 13, 2013

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Timothy Fisher

Timothy Fisher was convicted of rape and sodomy in 1993 and sentenced in 1994 to life without parole.

Timothy does not deny having sex with the woman. The alleged rape happened on July 18, 1993 about 10:00 pm. She left a while later and walked to a pay phone and had another male friend come pick her up and take her to his house where she told her story to his mother she told her to go to the hospital and get checked by a doctor.

The rape kit was done and came back negative. The officer working the case got her to show him where the rape allegedly happened.

Timothy was contacted to come in to talk to the officer at the Bessemer Police Department, which he did. The officers did not get a search warrant for his house to search it. They did not feel a crime had been committed. No DNA was taken from him either.

On July 22nd 1993 a warrant was issued for the Jefferson County District Court Bessemer Division after an affidavit was signed by the woman.

His court-appointed lawyer had just recently gotten his bar licenses back from being disbarred.

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Jerry Hammond

Jerry Hammond was convicted for the robbery and murder of his uncle, and sentenced to life in prison.

The first trial was reversed due to an incomplete record, the second due to the prosecutor referencing the result of the first trial.

The prosecution case is that on August 3, 1988, Jerry Hammond and Sandra Jackson went to Hammond’s house in Dothan, where they smoked crack cocaine. According to Sandra, they made repeated trips to purchase more crack cocaine, until they ran out of money; they then drove to a house where Jerry’s 80–year–old uncle James McNeil lived; and Jerry then entered the house, and robbed and murdered James.

Jerry says however that Sandra was the one who robbed and murdered his uncle. He has applied for ‘Touch DNA’ tests to be performed on the victim’s pants, the victim’s wallet, and defendant’s gray shirt.

The prosecution argue that according to eye-witnesses,  both Jerry and Sandra repeatedly handled both the trousers and the wallet after James was killed, and “a strong likelihood also exists that Sandra Jackson touched the gray shirt as she and defendant were, per the eyewitness evidence, together several hours prior to and after the murder, and therefore DNA tests would not reveal anything that was not already known to the trial jury.”

The defense also want a fingerprint from the refrigerator, some pieces of shattered windowpane, and scrapings from the victim’s fingernails tested for DNA. However the appeal ruling says “the Court has no idea, because the evidence at the hearing did not reflect, whether or not those items exist and, if so, where they are located and whether or not they have been preserved in a manner which would make results reliable.”

The conviction appears to rest on the word of Sandra Jackson, who clearly had a strong motive to lie if she committed the crime.

Sources: Appeal Ruling | Newspaper report | Discussion

Scanned Documents : Incident Report | Letter to Innocence Project June 2007 | Newspaper Report on incomplete transcript | Photo showing Alice, Jerry and Jeannette | SolicitationToCommitCocaineSale | Letter from Jerry dated 1 Nov 2015 | McKissick Statement

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Alton Dandridge – Exoneration report

Beniah Alton Dandridge was released on October 1st, 2015 after Equal Justice Initiative presented evidence showing that he was innocent of the murder for which he spent 20 years in prison.

On May 5, 1995, Beniah Dandridge was charged with capital murder in the killing of Riley Manning Sr. in Montgomery, Alabama, based exclusively on the Alabama Bureau of Investigation’s assertion that bloody fingerprints found at the crime scene matched Mr. Dandridge. No other physical evidence connected Mr. Dandridge to the crime.

At trial, prosecutors relied on the ABI examiner’s testimony that the fingerprints definitely matched Mr. Dandridge. The only other evidence presented was the testimony of a jailhouse informant who, in exchange for a reduced sentence in a pending case, said Mr. Dandridge told him he was involved in the crime.

Mr. Dandridge testified that he had nothing to do with the murder and presented evidence, corroborated by other witnesses, that he was elsewhere at the time of the crime. The jury convicted him of the lesser offense of intentional murder, and he was sentenced to life in prison.

In state postconviction proceedings, David Suddeth, who was also charged with killing Mr. Manning and pleaded guilty to capital murder to avoid the death penalty, provided a sworn statement that Mr. Dandridge was not present when Mr. Manning was killed. The jailhouse informant also said in a sworn affidavit that he testified falsely against Mr. Dandridge to obtain a reduced sentence.

The trial judge nonetheless denied relief, and state and federal courts affirmed that decision on appeal, relying on the fingerprint match to reject Mr. Dandridge’s innocence claim. Despite the evidence that he had been wrongly convicted, and his impeccable conduct in prison, the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles denied Mr. Dandridge parole twice.

EJI took on Mr. Dandridge’s case and filed a new challenge to his conviction in November 2014. In those proceedings, EJI presented evidence from independent forensic experts who testified that their examination of the fingerprint evidence conclusively excluded Mr. Dandridge.

The ABI’s examiner had used unreliable procedures to compare the fingerprints and had ignored obvious differences that clearly showed the prints did not belong to Mr. Dandridge. Excluding Mr. Dandridge, the experts found that the fingerprints instead matched the victim’s son, eliminating the State’s most significant evidence against Mr. Dandridge.

From – see full story there.

Harvey Windsor

Harvey Windsor was wrongfully convicted of the murder of Rayford Howard and Randal Pepper.

Both were shot by Lavon Guthrie and an accomplice on February 25, 1988.

The question in this case is the identity of the accomplice.

Harvey Windsor was convicted on the basis of

(a) An obviously dubious eyewitness identification placing him with Lavon Guthrie on the day of the murder.

(b) An invalid fingerprint identification.  The state’s fingerprint expert, Ms. Carol Curlee, “made only one fingerprint identification of Mr. Windsor, that on the cigarette butt. On cross-examination Ms. Curlee admitted that this was only a partial print, and that she could not recall how many ‘points’ of similarity there were between that print and Mr. Windsor’s file prints.”
( from the appeal ruling ).

  • Two alibi witnesses testified that Harvey Windsor was in fact elsewhere at the time of the second crime.
  • Other eyewitnesses failed to identify Harvey Windsor as the accomplice, and gave descriptions that did not match him.

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Montez Spradley – Exonerated

Montez Spradley was wrongly convicted of the 2004 murder of a 58-year old white woman in Birmingham.

He spent nine years behind bars — including three-and-a-half years on Alabama’s death row.

The prosecution relied on tainted and inconsistent testimony of his disgruntled ex-girlfriend as well as a jailhouse snitch, who both claimed he had confessed to them.

The ex-girlfriend wanted to back out, and was paid $10,000 for her testimony.

Neither the police nor the prosecutors ever disclosed the payments to the defense.  Judge Bahakel, before sentencing Montez to death, had signed off on a payment herself. Yet she never told Montez’s trial lawyers about it, and her order authorizing the payment never made it into the court file.

Read more here


Donnis George Musgrove

An Alabama inmate who has spent almost 30 years on death row for a murder he denies committing has an unusual supporter in his bid for freedom: A state judge who once represented the man’s co-defendant while working as a defense lawyer.

Jefferson County Circuit Judge Tommy Nail told The Associated Press in an interview this week he believes Donnis George Musgrove and another man were wrongly convicted of capital murder in 1988, and he hopes a federal court now reviewing Musgrove’s appeal corrects the error.

From a report in the Guardian:

The defense says in court documents that later scientific tests prove the 9 mm casing used as evidence against Musgrove was planted at the scene and wasn’t tied to the crime at all. And besides, Musgrove’s lawyers contend: Witness testimony and phone records showed he was in Florida, hundreds of miles away, at the time of the killing.

Add it all up, the defense claims, and Musgrove should be set free.

“To successfully plead actual innocence, a petitioner must show that his conviction resulted from a constitutional violation,” Musgrove’s lawyers wrote in court documents submitted to US district judge David Proctor, who is considering the case. “Here, the evidence shows decisively that Mr. Musgrove is innocent of the crime for which he was sentenced to death.”

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“Musgrove, 67, was sentenced to die for the gunshot killing of Coy Eugene Barron in 1986, but his attorneys maintain the prosecution falsified every piece of evidence against him, including witness statements and a shell casing that was used to link him to the slaying.”

Death row inmate dies before ruling on whether to exonerate him November 27, 2015

Anthony Ray Hinton was released on Good Friday last year 2014. He was prosecuted by the same attorney, in front of the same judge, using the same ballistics expert. And the United States Supreme Court overturned his conviction last year. And after the time that had passed he was also on death row since the late 1980’s,” said Jackson.

Jackson says Musgrove will never get that chance.

“Donnis maintained his innocence the entire time from the moment he was arrested until his death. And the appeal had several issues, there were several problems. His constitutional rights were violated because the prosecution coached some witnesses and offered perjured testimony at the trial. The prosecution and the investigating officers switched some shell casings with some bullets that allowed the prosecution’s expert to try to link up a weapon with Donnis and his co-defendant,” said Jackson.

Jackson says that Musgrove’s defense attorney during the trial had never tried a capital murder case before and made several errors.

“So there were lots of reasons that Donnis’s conviction should never have happened and we continued to try to raise those on appeal over the last 20 years,” said Jackson.

A federal appeals court had yet to issue a ruling on those issues when Musgrove passed away on November 25th, 2015. The questions raised in the appeal have not been answered.

“Unfortunately they will not. This appeal will die with Mr. Musgrove. And we are so sad that he did not live to be exonerated because we firmly believe that he was an innocent man and wrongfully convicted,” said Jackson.

Rodney Stanberrry

The end of Valerie Findley’s life began with a single shot from a 9-mm hand gun. But it took years for her to die. She had been on the phone with one of her best friends, her sister, when there was a knock at the door of her home in Whistler, Ala. It was March 2, 1992 between eight and nine in the morning.

The two men outside were there under false pretenses. That there were two men is not disputed. Their identities are. The reason they were there is also not in question. They came to steal the gun collection belonging to Mike Finley – Valerie’s husband – and they did. They stuffed the guns in a pillowcase and before both men left, one of them tried to snuff out Valerie’s life with a single gunshot in the style of an executioner. But to their chagrin, and to the surprise of many others, Valerie Finley lived. She lived long enough to remember, speak of, and testify about the crime.

At the end of it all, Rodney Stanberry was jailed for the crime. He was Mike Finley’s best friend. They collected guns together and had many of the same guns. After so many years, two questions remain: Why would Rodney Stanberry have an interest in stealing the guns of his best friend – many of which he already owned – and, why would he condone the shooting of his best friend’s wife?

The answer, according to Stanberry, is that he didn’t. He wasn’t even there when the crime happened, he says. At the time, Rodney Stanberry was a driver for BFI, the waste disposal service. Documents and statements from Stanberry’s bosses show that when Valerie Finley was shot, Stanberry was miles away at a BFI facility having his sanitation truck repaired. While those documents and testimony from a BFI manager were considered by the jury Rodney Stanberry was convicted anyway – some three years after the shooting of Valerie Finley – of being an accessory. While the jury saw that evidence, something they did not see was the confession of a man who admitted in a recorded conversation to being in Valerie Finley’s home when she was shot


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March 13, 2017 : Released from prison

Bill Wilson

This case is included to show just how ridiculous wrongful convictions can be.

Wilson was convicted of murdering his wife after she left and some old bones were found in a cave in 1912.

Luckily his wife turned up alive and well after he was convicted.

In 1932, Yale’s Borchard included Bill Wilson’s story in his book “Convicting the Innocent,” an examination of 65 wrongful convictions in America.


Daniel Benjamin Blan

Daniel Blan was convicted of the murder of Michael K. Bernos on July 27, 1994.

Daniel was convicted on very weak evidence, however Tony Quience was arrested on March 11, 1995 and convicted of the same murder. The jury that convicted Daniel were not aware of Quience’s involvement.

One state witness was a woman who was forced to lie. Another was a drug addict who was in jail with Daniel. Later he admitted he was too high on drugs to remember anything, and days after he testified that he was not being compensated for his testimony. He was charged with 12 counts of first degree robbery. Four of those were life with no parole. All but 7 were dropped and those were taken down to misdemeanors. And he later admitted he wrote the Attorney General office for a favor and was given that favor.

The death certificate says Bernos died approximately 6 pm. Daniel clocked out of work at 5:01. It takes an hour and a half to get from Daniels work to the victims home. without traffic.

A witness told police that two black men were in a car driving fast from the house hours before the murder, and they ran the witness off the road.

Bernos was a pedophile, and one of Quience’s school teachers.  While in jail, Quience confessed to 2 undercover officers than he killed Bernos, who owed him money for drugs.

Rosa Davis of the attorney general office was aware that Bernos had raped and molested numerous boys. That information was never disclosed to the defense.

Despite numerous appeals, Daniel remains in prison. Daniel had an alibi. Two witnesses testified that he was with them till 8:30 pm. At one appeal his court appointed lawyers weree asked why they did not get the charges dropped due to alibi. Both answered “I don’t know”.

Transcripts and other documents are available here.

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Donald Deardorff

Donald Deardorff was falsely implicated in the 1999 home invasion, robbery and  murder of businessman Ted Turner in 1999 by the true perpetrator Millard Peacock, convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

Peacock had given him the a box to hold for safekeeping for two days. Donald became curious about the contents of the box and opened it and was surprised to see a gun and money.

When Donald heard Turner was missing, he got in a car with his girlfriend, Christy Andrews, and they rode around looking for Peacock so they could return the box to him. They stopped at a Wal-Mart, and were then stopped by the police, who were investigating the murder.

Peacock was arrested in Mississippi on October 5, 1999. He gave numerous conflicting statements to the police, and in July 2001, he agreed to “cooperate fully” and led the police to Turner’s remains.

Peacock testified against Donald at trial. In exchange for his testimony, Peacock pleaded guilty to two theft charges and received a 15-year prison sentence.

Recovered DNA, recovered handwriting samples, hair samples and other evidence excludes Donald. At this time no testing has been done to determine who it belongs to. Phone records prove that Donald was somewhere else, in a Rule 32 hearing a witness who was friends with the victim testified that she saw Peacock and the victim together at a time when Peacock claims that the victim had already been kidnapped. There are many many other issues that point to innocence.

There is no reliable independent evidence against Donald, only the word of Peacock, whose guilt is not in doubt.

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Anthony Ray Hinton

Anthony was convicted of two shooting murders at fast food restaurants near Birmingham, Alabama in 1985. There were no eyewitnesses to either crime, and the fingerprints lifted from each crime scene did not match Mr. Hinton. The only evidence linking Mr. Hinton to the murders stemmed from a third shooting at a fast food restaurant in Bessemer. The victim in the third shooting did not die and misidentified Mr. Hinton as the assailant. At the time of the third shooting, Mr. Hinton was working in a locked warehouse 15 miles from the crime scene. His supervisor and other employees confirmed his innocence.

The State claimed that bullets recovered from all three crimes were fired from the same weapon and claimed that they matched a weapon recovered from Mr. Hinton’s mother.

In June 2002, three of the country’s top gun experts testified that they had examined the state’s evidence and concluded that the crime bullets could not be matched to the weapon recovered from Mr. Hinton’s mother and that the state had erred in making that claim.

After a long legal saga (including a successful appeal to the US Supreme Court), on September 25, 2014, Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Laura Petro ordered a new trial for Mr. Hinton, and the Court of Criminal Appeals upheld that decision on November 21, 2014.

On April 2, 2015 the case was dismissed due to lack of evidence.

Anthony was represented by the Equal Justice Initiative.


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Report at National Registry of Exonerations

Bill Kuenzel

Featured Case #32

On the night of November 9, 1987 in Sylacauga, Alabama, Linda Jean Offord was working the night shift at “Joe Bob’s Crystal Palace” convenience store. Some time between 11.05 p.m. and 11.20 p.m., she was shot during the course of an attempted robbery and later died as a result of her injuries. Following several witness statements identifying him at the store, Harvey Venn was subsequently arrested.

Two days later, implicated by Venn as an accomplice, Billy Kuenzel was also arrested. Billy was 25 years old at the time and Harvey Venn was just 18. During their initial incarceration, both men were separately offered a “plea bargain”. Billy, knowing himself to be innocent and nowhere near the scene of the crime, refused. Harvey Venn, a self confessed accomplice who first denied and then admitted his involvement in the crime took them up on the offer. He changed his story and pointed the finger instead at Billy in return for an 8-10 year prison sentence.

Billy was charged and convicted for the murder of Linda Jean Offord based almost entirely on the testimony of Harvey Venn along with the testimony of 16 year old April Harris who had passed by “Joe Bob’s Crystal Palace” in a car driven by her friend Crystal Epperson on the night in question. During the trial, Harris testified that she had seen Harvey Venn’s car parked outside the store sometime between 10.15pm and 11pm. She claimed to have witnessed two people inside the store who she identified as Venn and Kuenzel but that she could not see the cashier. Harris was not questioned very much further on this matter and nobody questioned the fact that the car would have been at least 200 feet away and that it was dark and it was raining. From the angle she claimed to have approached the store, it would be impossible to have a clear view of anyone inside, even on a clear day. The defense also failed to cross examine April Harris about the fact her testimony contradicted Venn’s trial testimony that he never even entered the store that night. Moreover, whoever April Harris believed she had seen, she saw them before the incident took place.

There is further evidence which forms a very strong case for innocence, please refer to the excellent website, and this video narrated by American actor Sam Waterson which clearly explains how the jury was wrongly persuaded of William’s involvement :

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Note: Appeal hearing (Oral Arguments) April 7, 2015, after a stay was granted on 11 February 2015.

High Priority case : Please take a look without delay.


July 14, 2015 Death row inmate Kuenzel loses appeal because of time limit