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UPDATE 6/28/23: The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has ruled against granting Rodney Reed a new trial.


UPDATE 4/19/23: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Rodney Reed can pursue request for DNA testing to prove his innocence.

CASE BACKGROUND: Rodney Reed, has maintained his innocence over his 22 years on Texas's death row. Reed was in a consensual relationship with the victim, Stacy Stites. After the trial, several witnesses corroborated Rodney's claim that they were romantically involved. Since his trial, substantial evidence exonerating Rodney and implicating Stacey’s then-fiancé Jimmy Fennell, a former local police officer, has come to light. Fennell was the prime suspect in the case for months after the murder, with a recording of police investigators saying he was believed to be motivated by Stites involvement with another man. Other evidence points to Fennell as well, his best friend at the time of the crime revealed that Jimmy gave an inconsistent account of where he was on the night of the murder, two witnesses have come forward about incriminating statements made by Fennell, he later served a 10-year prison sentence for a sex crime and kidnapping, and one of his prison mates came forward saying Fennell confessed to the crime. The mounting evidence against Fennell brings Rodney's guilt into question. Additionally, the murder weapon has never been tested for DNA evidence. The Texas Court of Appeals has repeatedly denied requests for testing of crime scene evidence. The US Supreme Court declined to directly review the Texas courts' denial of DNA testing in 2018. There are also racial concerns about Rodney's conviction. He is a Black man who was found guilty by an all white jury of killing a white woman.  Rodney was granted an indefinite stay of execution, just five days before his scheduled execution date of November 20, 2019, and is now awaiting a new hearing. Rodney now has another chance to prove his innocence, but he’s not free yet.

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UPDATE 5/5/23: SCOTUS Stays the 5/18 execution date.

Contact OK Leaders

UPDATE 5/1/23: An execution date is set for May 18 and the Board of Pardons and Parole voted 2-2 not to grant clemency.


UPDATE 11/1/22: WTI Executive Director Herman Lindsey sent a letter to the Oklahoma Board of Pardons and Parole urging them to grant clemency.

CASE BACKGROUND: Richard Glossip sits on Oklahoma’s death row despite maintaining his innocence for more that 23 years. He has endured three scheduled executions, the most recent of which, on September 30, 2015, was not postponed until 45 minutes after he was scheduled to die. He was convicted of the first-degree murder of hotel owner Barry Van Tresse in 1997. Glossip was charged with hiring Justin Sneed to commit the crime. Sneed admitted to the killing but avoided the death penalty by implicating Glossip. However, author of Dead Man Walking and anti-death penalty advocate, Sr. Helen Prejean, believes her friend, Richard, is innocent. There is plenty of evidence to back up this belief, which Glossip's lawyer, Don Knight, pointed out in an extremely detailed request for case documents. Knight has been requesting information from Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater for years, with no response. This latest attempt is proving no different. All the withheld evidence in Glossip's case sparks serious doubt about his involvement in this crime. Knight concludes his letter to Prater saying, “If you are confident in your evidence and it is unassailable, as it should be to support the execution of a citizen of Oklahoma, there is nothing to be gained from refusing to reveal it now.”




UPDATE 4/25/22: The Texas Court of Criminal appeals halts the execution of Melissa Lucio, finding that several of the claims raised by her lawyers, including her actual innocence, need to be considered by a trial court.


UPDATE 3/31/22: WTI member Sabrina Butler-Smith wrote an op-ed published in ELLE MAGAZINE "I Was an Innocent Woman Sentenced to Die. Here’s Why Melissa Lucio Must Be Saved."

CASE BACKGROUND: Melissa Lucio has been on death row in Texas since 2008 for the alleged murder of her two-year-old daughter, Mariah. As a victim of repeated sexual abuse and domestic violence, Melissa suffers from dissociation and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. When the police interrogated Melissa about the death of her daughter, she insisted that she did not kill Mariah. They badgered her, pushing her to accept that she was responsible for Mariah's death. Texas Ranger Victor Escalon interrogated her until 3 a.m., until, after five hours, Melissa acquiesced and said, “I guess I did it.”​ The tactics used by Melissa’s interrogators were roundly condemned in a brief filed by the Innocence Project and Innocence Network in support of Melissa. They confirm that the tactics used by Escalon and other detectives ran the risk of eliciting a false confession. Additionally, Lucio's lawyers have contested Mariah's cause of death, presenting expert testimony from a neurosurgeon that Mariah may instead have died from head trauma caused by falling down a flight of stairs, a fall that was witnessed by Melissa's children. ​ The district attorney who prosecuted Lucio's case was convicted of bribery and extortion in 2014. He is now serving a 13 year sentence in prison, and was suspected of using Melissa's case to be re-elected. In July, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit overturned a Texas court ruling and found Lucio’s right to a “complete defense” had been violated in her original trial. In February, 2021, a sharply divided court of appeals reversed the 2019 grant of relief by a vote of 10 to 7 and her hopes for exoneration are now in the U.S. Supreme Court. Melissa is in danger of receiving an execution date in the near future.

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UPDATE 1/11/23: Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denies relief to Robert Robertson.


UPDATE 7/12/22: Jason Flom releases 'Wrongful Convictions' Podcast about Robert Roberson's case.


UPDATE 4/11/22: Forensic science reformers and exonerees file briefs in support of Robert Roberson, as his Actual Innocence claim is pending before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

CASE BACKGROUND: Robert Roberson was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in Anderson County, Texas in 2003 for allegedly causing the death of Nikki Curtis, his two-year-old daughter. He has long maintained his innocence and seeks a new trial to present evidence that would challenge the State’s false, misleading, and scientifically invalid testimony. At the time of Mr. Roberson’s trial in 2003, “Shaken Baby Syndrome” (SBS) was a widely propounded theory used to explain how infants and small children, presenting with a set of three internal conditions affecting the brain, must have died due to violent shaking perpetrated by whatever adult was with the child when the child became unconscious. In the intervening 18 years, however, serious evidence-based challenges to the controversial theory of SBS have arisen. Studies by forensic pathologists, biomechanical engineers, and neuroradiologists have undermined the degree to which a set of physical symptoms can be interpreted as “proof” that an infant or toddler was intentionally injured through shaking in tandem with some head trauma.  Mr. Roberson faced execution on June 21, 2016 but received a stay from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals based in part on what was then a fairly new state law that allows for legal challenges based on changes in the science that had been used to obtain a conviction and death sentence (Article 11.073 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure). The Court sent Mr. Roberson’s case back to the trial court level to consider the merits of four distinct claims, including a “junk science” claim under Article 11.073. Mr. Roberson’s post-conviction proceeding not only challenges the hasty conclusion that his daughter’s death must have been the result of intentionally inflicted injuries attributable to him but also the insufficient attention paid to Nikki’s extensive history of chronic illness—including a raging infection at the time of her death.  Mr. Roberson’s evidentiary hearing initially began back in August 2018 but was abruptly halted after one day of testimony when the new district clerk found Nikki’s long-lost head CAT scans stashed in the courthouse basement. In March 2021, Mr. Roberson finally had the chance to present new evidence calling into question the integrity of his conviction during a multi-day evidentiary hearing in Anderson County. After the trial judge makes a recommendation, supported by findings of fact and conclusions of law, the case will go back to the Court of Appeals for an automatic review and a final determination as to whether he has a right to a new trial at last.

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UPDATE 10/12/23: Toforest Johnson's case featured in the "Earwitness" podcast.


UPDATE 4/18/23: Toforest Johnson's legal team are taking his case to the U.S. Supreme Court


UPDATE 9/9/22: Associated Press Article

CASE BACKGROUND: Toforest Johnson has been on Alabama's death row since 1998, for a crime he says he did not commit. In December of 2020, Johnson's case started to look more hopeful, as Jefferson County District Attorney Danny Carr concluded a nine-month, independent review of the case, writing in a legal pleading that his "duty to seek justice requires intervention in this case," requested that Judge Teresa Pulliam set aside Johnson's conviction and death sentence and grant him a new trial. Johnson was convicted in Birmingham, Alabama for the murder of Deputy Sheriff William G. Hardy. However, the prosecutors could not settle on one theory for their case, arguing five different theories over five different court proceedings. The state's only evidence against Johnson was the testimony of Violet Ellison, a woman who had never met Johnson or heard his voice. She claimed to overhear someone who identified themselves as "Toforest" confess to the murder in a three way call from jail. This is hardly enough evidence when a man's life is on the line. When Carr re-evaluated the case he reviewed trial transcripts and prosecutorial files, interviewed at least one alibi witness who did not testify at Johnson's trial, and discussed the case with attorneys and others who were involved in the case. The lead prosecutor who obtained Johnson's conviction and death sentence in 1998, Jeff Wallace, joined Carr's request for a new trial. Now Johnson's life rests in the hands of Judge Pulliam who refused to consider Carr's legal pleading in June. The new filing is pending in Pulliam's court.

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UPDATE 2/9/22: Jason Flom releases 'Wrongful Convictions' Podcast about Kevin Cooper's case.


UPDATE 5/28/21: Governor Newson signed an executive order to launch an independent investigation of death row inmate Kevin Cooper's case as part of the evaluation of Cooper's application for clemency.

CASE BACKGROUND: For the past 38 years Kevin Cooper has remained on California's death row, serving a sentence for a crime he says he did not commit. The evidence in support of his innocence is compelling. The DNA from his case, which has degraded over the decades of authorities refusing to do the testing, did not concretely point to a new suspect. However, an orange towel found at the crime scene yielded a full DNA profile that does not match Cooper or the victims. If they are able to find a match for the DNA, they may be able to find the person actually responsible for the death of the Ryen family and Chris Hughes. While the DNA was being tested, a witness came forward about a different suspect who recounted his involvement in the murders. Two other witnesses have said they would be willing to testify that this suspect bragged to them recently about killing the family. This suspect is a convicted murderer who had served his sentence and was less than a year out of prison when the crime was committed. The evidence of Cooper's innocence is gaining recognition in criminal justice circles. A 100-page dissent by four federal circuit court judges warned that California was preparing to execute an innocent man. William A. Fletcher, one of the judges in the dissent, said in a lecture, "The San Bernardino Sheriff's Department framed him."

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UPDATE 10/27/22: Jason Flom releases 'Wrongful Convictions' Podcast about Billie Allen's case.

CASE BACKGROUND: Billie Allen has been on federal death row for 23 years, despite strong innocence claims. He was convicted of a 1997 armed robbery and murder of a security guard named Richard Heflin. At the time of his arrest key evidence was tested for his DNA, including a blood stained leather strap, all evidence came back negative for Allen's DNA. An alibi witness placed Allen miles away at the mall during the time of the crime and Allen had receipts to back up this alibi. However, the jury never heard this evidence of Allen's whereabouts during the time of the crime. ​Additionally, the getaway van used by those who committed the crime was blown up, yet Allen's clothes had no evidence of petroleum byproducts. Allen's attorney's failed him at trial. They did not challenge false and misleading witness testimony or call any witnesses on Allen's behalf. With Allen's life on the line, it is important that all of the evidence is reviewed in a fair trial. ​His sister says, after years of fighting for her brother’s innocence, "What I have learned since then is that the system serves to protect convictions rather than truth, and finality is more important than fairness."

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CASE BACKGROUND: Ruben Gutierrez is on Texas' death row and has sought DNA testing of the evidence in his case for years. He says that this evidence could help him prove he did not kill 85 year old Escolastica Harrison. One of the Gutierrez's attorneys, Shawn Nolan, says that Gutierrez's statements to the police became more incriminating as they threatened to arrest his wife as an accomplice and to take his children. In March, 2021, A federal judge ruled in favor of DNA testing in Gutierrez's case, but the state of Texas has appealed the ruling. As Nolan says, "If he is so sure that Mr. Gutierrez's conviction and death sentence are sound and that Mr. Gutierrez deserves to die, there can be no reason to continue to refuse our reasonable requests for this testing, which would be done automatically by law if this case happened today."




UPDATE 6/1/20: A Florida judge has denied death-row prisoner James Dailey’s motion for a new trial on May 29, 2020, ruling that no new admissible evidence supported Dailey’s claim of innocence.

CASE BACKGROUND: Since his conviction in 1987, James Dailey has maintained his innocence. There is no eyewitness, physical, or forensic evidence to convict him. Dailey was sentenced to death solely based on the testimony of Paul Skalnik, a known jailhouse informant. Skalnik served as a witness in 35 cases, sent dozens of people to prison, and three to death row. James Dailey's codefendant, Jack Pearcy, signed a declaration in December of 2019 declaring that he alone had committed the murder. “James Dailey had nothing to do with the murder of Shelly Boggio,” the declaration said. “I committed the crime alone. James Dailey was back at the house when I drove Shelly Boggio to the place where I ultimately killed her.” However, when it came time to testify in March of 2019 Pearcy refused. Dailey received a stay of execution, but a new date could be set at any moment. His legal team continues to fight to prove Dailey's innocence.

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UPDATE 3/10/22: Charles Flores has filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the US Supreme Court asserting that Texas’s highest criminal court improperly refused to hear substantial new claims that he is actually innocent and that the capital murder case against him was built through rampant police and prosecutorial misconduct.

CASE BACKGROUND: In 1999, Charles Flores, a Latino man, was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in Dallas County. He was accused of the 1998 murder of a Farmers Branch grandmother, Elizabeth Black. Richard Childs, a white man, was also indicted for Mrs. Black’s murder, but was later re-indicted for a lesser offense and ultimately received a plea bargain for a 15-year sentence. Childs is now out on parole. Police detectives investigating the crime faced several obstacles, including a lack of physical evidence and a cohort of unreliable witnesses. No direct evidence linked Flores to the crime scene. His conviction hinged largely on an eyewitness who identified him 13 months after the police had conducted a hypnosis session on her and had shown her Flores’s picture in a highly suggestive photo array. Even then, this witness, who had initially described the perpetrators as two white males with long dirty hair, only identified Flores after she saw him sitting in the courtroom at the defense table during his trial when she came to the courthouse to testify for the State. Flores faced execution in 2016 but was granted a stay by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which sent his case back to the trial court to permit him to develop evidence showing how the use of “forensic hypnosis” to obtain his conviction constituted junk science. Today, there is a virtual consensus that hypnosis only enhances the risks of false memory creation, unwarranted confidence in memories, and errors in eyewitness identification. A majority of U.S. jurisdictions (not including Texas) has adopted a per se ban on the admissibility of hypnotically induced testimony, recognizing that the process is inherently unreliable. In 2020, the CCA denied relief to Charles Flores and the U.S. Supreme Court later declined to review his petition in which he challenged the constitutionality of using hypnotically induced testimony to obtain convictions. In 2021, the Texas Legislature passed a bill to prohibit the use of hypnotically induced testimony in a criminal trial, but it was vetoed by Governor Greg Abbott.




UPDATE 11/18/21: OK Governor Stitt granted clemency to Julius, commuting his sentence to life imprisonment without possibility of parole.

CASE BACKGROUND: Julius Jones is on death row in Oklahoma, despite maintaining his innocence and compelling evidence that he was wrongfully convicted. Jones did not fit the eyewitness's description of the shooter, while his co-defendant and the state's key witness against Jones, fit the description. The prosecution at Jones' trial told the jurors that in exchange for his testimony, Jones' co-defendant would serve 30 years in prison. However, Julius' co-defendant pleaded guilty to the crime and went on to serve just 15 years before being released. He is now a free man. Jones' case was wrought with racial bias. During Jones' arrest, an officer used a racial slur and all of the Black jurors were removed except one. One juror even used the n-word before jury deliberations at the sentencing phase. Such blatant examples of racial prejudice cannot be tolerated in the justice system. Given all of the evidence that Julius Jones' trial was unfair and racially biased, his conviction and death sentence should be overturned. The evidence in support of his innocence claims should not be overlooked. A man's life is on the line.



UPDATE 1/31/22: Shelby County Judge Paula Skahan sentenced Pervis Payne to serve concurrent life sentences, making him eligible for parole in five years. UPDATE 11/18/21: Shelby County DA conceded that Pervis Payne is a person with an intellectual disability and he therefore cannot be executed under the Tennessee constitution, taking him off death row.

CASE BACKGROUND: Pervis has been on death row in Tennessee for 33 years. Despite his strong innocence claims, intellectual disability, and evidence of racial stereotyping used at trial, he was set to be executed on December 3rd. Thankfully, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee granted him a temporary reprieve of execution until April 9, 2021 due to “challenges and disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.” On January 19, 2021, the long awaited results of the DNA testing in Payne's case were submitted by the Innocence Project. The results are consistent with Payne's innocence claims, as male DNA from an unknown third party was found on the murder weapon and other key evidence. However, because the evidence was sitting, untested for decades, it is too degraded to identify another suspect from the FBI's database. Pervis Payne says that he was in his girlfriend's apartment when he heard cries coming from a neighboring apartment. He went over to help and found the awful crime scene in front of him. His DNA was found only on the items he said he touched while trying to help the victims. Additionally, Mr. Payne's personal history and upbringing shows no signs that he would be capable of committing this crime. He has no prior contact with the legal system, has maintained his innocence for over 30 years, there is missing key evidence in his case, and the trial failed to provide any substantial motive for committing this crime, his life should not be taken with so much uncertainty in his case. On top of everything else, Pervis has an intellectual disability. The Supreme Court recognizes that those living with intellectual disability are especially susceptible to wrongful conviction and ruled that death sentences are unconstitutional in these cases.

The Number of Innocent People on Death Row is Unknown

According to a report by the National Academy of Sciences,

4% of those on death row are innocent. 

There are approximately 2,500 people on death row in the United States.

Therefore, about 100 people sentenced to death are innocent.

Even one innocent life lost is one too many.

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Sedley Alley case

Sedley Alley was executed in 2006 by the state of Tennessee, despite strong innocence claims. Now DNA evidence could prove his innocence. This would provide definitive proof of what is already largely suspected - we have executed the innocent.

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