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Clarence Brandley (1951-2018)

Exoneree Name

State: Texas

Convicted: 1981

Exonerated: 1990

Race: Black

DNA used in exoneration? No

Reasons for wrongful conviction:

Police misconduct

Prosecutorial misconduct

False accusation



Clarence Brandley was working as a high school custodian in Conroe, Texas, in 1980, when police arrested him for the murder of Cheryl Fergeson, a 16-year-old white student. When his white co-workers voiced suspicion of Clarence, the only black man on the staff, he was quickly arrested and charged.

While the police interviewed Brandley and one of his white co-workers, an interrogator proclaimed that, “One of you two is going to hang for this,” and told Clarence, “Since you’re the nigger, you’re elected.” In his first trial he faced an all-white jury. One juror refused to convict, causing a hung jury, and was met with a constant barrage of harassment and threats after the trial ended. Clarence’s second all-white jury convicted him, and in 1981 he was sentenced to death.

A year later it was revealed that the majority of the murder investigation’s physical evidence had mysteriously disappeared while under police control. In 1986, a new witness stepped forward claiming to know the real murderer. Yet Clarence’s defense was repeatedly denied a new trial. Mere weeks before Clarence’s scheduled execution in March 1987, private investigator James McCloskey joined his legal team and contributed to the first major break in the case. The original testimony of the other custodians was recanted after it was revealed that investigators had coerced their stories. Furthermore, when the blatant racism of the first two trials was discovered, the FBI decided to intervene, and Clarence was granted a new trial and exonerated. Amazingly, it took three more years for Clarence to be was released from Texas’ death row.

Clarence passed away on September 2, 2018. He was one of the first people to be exonerated from death row in Texas and he advocated for the abolition of the death penalty by telling his story of racial bigotry and unfair conviction for a crime he did not commit. His story is the subject of one of the most riveting true crime books we have ever read, "White Lies" by Nick Davies and a cable TV movie, "Whitewash: The Clarence Brandley Story". Read Clarence's op-ed in the Houston Chronicle about his time on death row.




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