James Alan Gell, from North Carolina, United States, was sentenced to death for and later exonerated of the crime of first degree murder. He was freed from death row when it was determined that the prosecution had withheld significant exculpatory evidence and impeachment evidence.
Allen Ray Jenkins, age 56, was found on April 14, 1995 in his home in Aulander, North Carolina. He had been shot twice in the chest with a shotgun. In the days and weeks after the murder, the police talked to several disinterested witnesses who said they had seen Jenkins alive as late as April 10.
Jenkins' brother, Sidney Jenkins, as well as his neighbor, Mary Hunt, recalled seeing him on April 8, 1995. Edward and Margaret Adams reported seeing Jenkins on April 9, 1995 while out for a walk. Jenkins was seen in Ahoskie on April 10 by a former coworker, a restaurant waitress, and a man who said he sold a dozen herring to Jenkins on that date. Despite this testimony, police officials settled on a theory that Jenkins was killed on April 3, 1995; it was the last date on which it could possibly have been Alan Gell who killed Jenkins, since Gell was out of state or jailed for car theft on all other days between April 3 and April 14.
In the first case, the state of North Carolina had two witnesses: Gell's girlfriend at the time, Shanna Hall, and Crystal Morris, who were both fifteen. Both testified that they saw Gell shooting Jenkins with a shotgun on April 3. The girls testified that Hall had called Gell, requesting that Gell come to Jenkins' house to help Hall and Morris rob Jenkins. When the police came to question them, Hall and Morris showed officers where Gell had allegedly hidden the guns. During the trial both girls were offered a plea bargain. Pleading guilty to second degree murder, they would both receive 10 years in prison.
Gell was indicted August 7, 1995 on charges of first degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, armed robbery and conspiracy to commit armed robbery. He was sentenced to death by Bertie County, Superior Court for the crime of first degree murder later that same year.
While on death row, Gell was given an appeal after his attorney argued that prosecutors withheld key evidence. He alleged that the police withheld eyewitness information from the forensic pathologist, Dr. M. G. F. Gilliland. Gilliland says she would have predicted that Jenkins had died closer to April 14 than April 3, as was stated in the trial, if she had been told about the numerous sightings — over seventeen — of Allen on 8 and 9 April. The court was also presented with the fact that during the time the crime was committed Gell had been out of state or arrested for stealing a car and was serving a sentence in jail.
It turns out that from Sidney Jenkins' account, Allen had a weakness for “underage girls”. Jenkins had been convicted of statutory rape of a fourteen-year-old girl in 1990 in Ahoskle, North Carolina. He was imprisoned for six months after pleading guilty to two counts of indecent liberties with a minor.
When police searched Jenkins' house, they saw that there had been a baking pan of fish and an open container of wine coolers, indicating he had received guests earlier. Hall and Morris testified during the first trial that Jenkins had invited them over for wine coolers.
On February 18, 2004, jurors deliberated just 2½ hours before returning the verdict in Bertie County Superior Court and acquitting Gell of the 1995 murder of Allen Ray Jenkins, making Gell the 113th (as of November 29, 2010) person to be freed from death row in the United States. As jurors left the courtroom, Gell, then 28 years old, hugged his lawyers. Gell was represented by James P. Cooney, III, Joseph Cheshire V, Mary Pollard, and Brad Bannon.
Gell would later go on to receive a college education and become an anti-death-penalty activist, among other things appearing on an episode of Penn & Teller: Bullshit! about the death penalty to discuss his wrongful conviction.
In April 2006, Gell was charged with the statutory rape of a former girlfriend (who was fifteen years old) and possession of cocaine. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years in prison.
- Brady violation
- List of wrongful convictions in the United States
- Overturned convictions in the United States
- Prosecutorial misconduct
- List of United States death row inmates
- Joseph Neff (2004-12-19). "N.C. Prosecutors Stifled Evidence". The News & Observer. pp. A1.
- newsobserver.com | Convicted killer takes stand[dead link]
- Joseph Neff (2002-12-08). "Chapter 1: Who killed Allen Ray Jenkins?". The News & Observer.
- Raymond Paternoster, Robert Brame, and Sarah Bacon (2008). The death penalty: America's experience with capital punishment. Oxford University Press. p. 242. ISBN 978-0-19-533242-1.
- "Bar Files Complaint Against Prosecutors, Case Claims Lawyers Hid Evidence That May Have Cleared Murder Suspect". Charlotte Observer. 2004-04-10. pp. 4B.
- Joseph Neff (2009-10-04). "Gell investigator ignored blatant clues". The News & Observer.
- "Alan Gell". Offender Public Information. North Carolina Department of Correction. Retrieved 2010-08-20.
- Joseph Neff (2002-12-11). "Chapter 4: Evidence points to innocence". The News & Observer.
- "Former Death Row Inmate Acquitted in One Court, Now Convicted in Another". Death Penalty Information Center. Archived from the original on 13 April 2010. Retrieved 12 April 2010.
- "Revision to the List of Exonerated Individuals". Death Penalty Information Center. Archived from the original on 6 December 2010. Retrieved 29 November 2010.
- Estes Thompson (2006-04-13). "Former death row inmate Gell charged". Times-News. Associated Press. pp. 7B.
- [dead link]
- Robert P. Mosteller (2007-12-15). Disciplinary action against special prosecutors David Hoke and Debra C. Graves arising from the capital prosecution of Alan Gell (PDF). "Exculpatory evidence, ethics, and the road to the disbarment of Mike Nifong: The critical importance of full open-file discovery". George Mason Law Review 15 (2): 262–276.