Randall Dale Adams

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Randall Dale Adams
Born(1948-12-17)December 17, 1948
DiedOctober 30, 2010(2010-10-30) (aged 61)
OccupationU.S. anti-death penalty activist
Criminal charge(s)Murder
Criminal penaltyDeath by lethal injection; commuted to life in prison
Criminal statusConvicted (1977); overturned (1989)
Spouse(s)Jill Fratta

Randall Dale Adams (December 17, 1948 – October 30, 2010[1]) was an American who was wrongfully convicted of the November 28, 1976 murder of Dallas, Texas police officer Robert W. Wood and sentenced to death.[2][3] His conviction was overturned in 1989.[4]

Throughout his legal ordeal, Adams maintained his innocence. He insisted that the man he believed to be Wood's killer, David Ray Harris, had offered him a ride on the day of the shooting after his own car had run out of gasoline. Adams and Harris had spent several hours together but had parted ways prior to the shooting. Under an immunity agreement, Harris testified for the prosecution that Adams was the shooter of Officer Wood while he was the passenger. Based on the testimony of Harris and other alleged eyewitnesses, Adams was found guilty by a Dallas County jury and imprisoned on death row. In 1980, his sentence was commuted to life in prison.

While incarcerated for the crime, Adams was the subject of the 1988 documentary film The Thin Blue Line,[5] which was cited as being instrumental in his exoneration the following year. Writer–director Errol Morris knew that Harris had, on multiple occasions, bragged about shooting a police officer.[6] He later uncovered evidence of prosecutorial misconduct and eyewitness misidentification.[7] During an interview with Harris, Morris was able to record audio of him giving a pseudo-confession to the Wood murder.[8] In 2004, Harris was executed by lethal injection for an unrelated 1985 murder. He was never charged with Robert Wood's murder.[9]

Six months after the film's release, Adams' conviction was overturned by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and prosecutors declined to re-try the case. Adams received no compensation from the State of Texas for the 12 years he spent in prison. He died of a brain tumor in 2010.

Early life and education[edit]

Adams was born in Grove City, Ohio,[10] the youngest of five children of a woman named Mildred and a miner who died of coalworker's pneumoconiosis. Adams graduated from high school in 1967, and spent three years as a U.S. Army paratrooper.[10]

Murder conviction[edit]

In October 1976, 27-year-old Randall Adams and his brother left Ohio for California. En route, they arrived in Dallas on Thanksgiving night. The next morning, Adams was offered a contracting job. On the following Saturday, November 27, Adams went to start work but no one turned up because it was a weekend. On the way home, his car ran out of fuel.[10]

David Ray Harris, who had just turned sixteen, passed Adams in a car that he had stolen from his neighbor in Vidor, Texas, before driving to Dallas with his father's pistol and a shotgun. Harris offered Adams a ride. The two spent the day together, during which they drank alcohol and smoked marijuana. That evening they went to a drive-in movie, where they saw The Student Body (1976, directed by Gus Trikonis) and The Swinging Cheerleaders (1974, directed by Jack Hill).[10]

That evening, Robert W. Wood, a Dallas police officer, was working the graveyard shift with his partner, Teresa Turko, one of the first female police officers in Dallas to be assigned to patrol duty. Shortly after midnight on November 28, Wood stopped Harris' stolen car in the 3400 block of North Hampton Road because the car's headlights were not on. As Wood approached, he was shot twice in the forearm and chest by someone in the car.[10] The vehicle sped off almost immediately after the shooting, giving Wood's partner little time to react; she later testified that she managed to fire upon the fleeing vehicle but to no avail.

The Dallas Police Department investigation led back to Harris, who, after returning to Vidor, had boasted to friends that he was responsible for the crime. Harris was arrested but, when interviewed by police, accused Adams of the murder.[11][12] Harris led police to the car driven from the scene of the crime, as well as to a .22 Short caliber revolver he identified as the murder weapon.


Dallas prosecutor Douglas D. Mulder charged Adams with the crime, despite the evidence against Harris, apparently because Harris was a juvenile at the time and Adams, as an adult, could be sentenced to death under Texas law. Adams testified that after leaving the drive-in movie, Harris dropped Adams off at his motel, where Adams and his brother watched TV and then went to sleep. He claimed he was not in the car when the shooting happened. Harris testified that Adams was not only in the car, but was the driver, as well as the shooter of Officer Wood.[10]

Testimony by Harris and several questionable eyewitnesses – including Emily Miller and R.L. Miller, who claimed to have driven past Harris' stopped vehicle immediately before the shooting – led to Adams' conviction. Texas forensic psychiatrist James Grigson (a.k.a. "Dr. Death") was also a witness for the prosecution. Having administered a psychiatric evaluation of Adams, he told the jury that Adams would be an ongoing menace if kept alive.[13] As a result of this testimony, Adams was given the death penalty. His conviction was unanimously upheld by the Texas Courts of Appeals in 1979.[14]

Many years later, in 1995, Grigson was expelled by the American Psychiatric Association and the Texas Society of Psychiatric Physicians for unethical conduct.[15][16]

Commutation of death sentence[edit]

Adams' execution was originally scheduled for May 8, 1979, but U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. ordered a stay only three days before the scheduled date. In 1980, the Supreme Court on an 8–1 vote ruled unconstitutional a Texas requirement for jurors to swear an oath that the mandatory imposition of a death sentence would not interfere with their consideration of factual matters, such as guilt or innocence, during a trial. As a result of the decision, Adams' death sentence was reversed and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted him a new trial.[17] Before the trial could begin, however, Texas Governor Bill Clements commuted Adams' sentence to life in prison at the request of the Dallas County District Attorney.[1][18]


In May 1988, David Ray Harris, by that point himself a prisoner on death row, admitted that Adams was not even in the car on the night of the murder.[19] The August 1988 release of the documentary film The Thin Blue Line, which detailed the many inconsistencies in the prosecution's line of reasoning, further cast doubt on Adams' guilt, but the case remained in legal limbo.[19]

In 1989, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Ex parte Adams[20] overturned Adams' conviction on the grounds of malfeasance by the prosecutor Douglas D. Mulder and inconsistencies in the testimony of a key witness, Emily Miller.[21][22] The appeals court found that prosecutor Mulder withheld a statement by Emily Miller to the police that cast doubt on her credibility and also allowed her to give perjured testimony. Furthermore, the court found that after Adams' attorney discovered the statement late in Adams' trial, Mulder falsely told the court that he did not know the witness' whereabouts. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stated that "conviction was unfair mainly because of prosecutor Doug Mulder."[23][24] Mulder had returned to practicing private law in Dallas in 1981.[25] Following the appeals court decision, the case was returned to Dallas County for a retrial, but the district attorney's office decided not to prosecute the case again based on the length of time since the original crime, and Adams was subsequently released.[3][26][2][27]

Despite being wrongly imprisoned for twelve years, Adams received no compensation from the State of Texas.[1] It is said that if Adams had been found to be wrongly convicted under present-day Texas law, he would be entitled to receive $80,000 for each year of incarceration. Additionally, at the time his conviction was thrown out, wrongly convicted prisoners could get a lump sum payment of $25,000 if pardoned by the governor. However, since Adams was released because his case was dismissed, and not because he was pardoned, he received no payment from the state after his release.[12]

David Ray Harris[edit]

David Ray Harris had testified in the original trial that he was the passenger in the stolen car, that he allowed Adams to drive, and that Adams committed the murder. He recanted this testimony at Adams' habeas corpus hearing, but never admitted guilt in a judicial setting and was never charged in the case.[28][29] On June 30, 2004, Harris was executed by lethal injection for the unrelated 1985 murder of Mark Mays in Beaumont, Texas, which occurred during an attempted abduction of Mays' girlfriend.[30][31][32]


After his release from prison, Adams ended up in a legal battle with Errol Morris, the director of The Thin Blue Line, concerning the rights to his story. The matter was settled out of court after Adams was granted sole use of anything written or made on the subject of his life.[33] Adams said of the matter: "Mr. Morris felt he had the exclusive rights to my life story. ... I did not sue Errol Morris for any money or any percentages of The Thin Blue Line, though the media portrayed it that way."[34]

Morris, for his part, recalled: "When he got out, he became very angry at the fact that he had signed a release giving me rights to his life story. And he felt as though I had stolen something from him. Maybe I had, maybe I just don't understand what it's like to be in prison for that long, for a crime you hadn't committed. In a certain sense, the whole crazy deal with the release was fueled by my relationship with his attorney. And it's a long, complicated story, but I guess when people are involved, there's always a mess somewhere."[35]

Activism and personal life[edit]

While in prison, Adams earned a correspondence-course degree from Lee College in Baytown, Texas.[10] Adams later worked as an anti-death penalty activist. He wrote a book about his story, Adams v. Texas, which was published in June 1992.[36] In 2001, at an anti-death penalty legislative hearing on behalf of the Texas Moratorium Network, Adams said:

The man you see before you is here by the grace of God. The fact that it took 12-and-a-half years and a movie to prove my innocence should scare the hell out of everyone in this room and, if it doesn't, then that scares the hell out of me.[37]

In 1999, Adams married Jill Fratta, the sister of a death-row inmate.[1][38]


Adams died of a brain tumor in Washington Court House, Ohio on October 30, 2010, at the age of 61.[39] He lived a quiet life divorced from his past. According to his lawyer, Randy Schaffer, the death was at the time reported only locally and was not more widely reported until June 25, 2011.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Martin, Douglas (June 25, 2011). "Randall Adams, 61, Dies; Freed With Help of Film". The New York Times. Retrieved June 28, 2011.
  2. ^ a b Suro, Roberto (March 2, 1989). "CONVICTION VOIDED IN TEXAS MURDER". The New York Times. Retrieved March 11, 2008.
  3. ^ a b Suro, Roberto (November 27, 1988). "DEATH ROW LUCK: 'I'M STILL ALIVE'". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved March 11, 2008.
  4. ^ "Randall Dale Adams returns to Dallas". Austin American-Statesman. December 4, 1989. Retrieved March 11, 2008.
  5. ^ "'Blue Line' inmate freed after 12 years". Chicago Tribune. March 22, 1989. Retrieved March 11, 2008.
  6. ^ David Ray Harris #916
  7. ^ Randall Dale Adams
  8. ^ Executed murderer had official accomplices | Freepress.org
  9. ^ Execution Report: David Harris – Page 1
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Montgomery Brower, Anne Maier, Ken Myers, Sandra Gurvis. [1] "Crossing a Line That Is Not Thin at All, Randall Dale Adams Wins Release from a Texas Prison,"]People Vol. 31 No. 14 (April 10, 1989)
  11. ^ "The Thin Blue Line Transcript". ErrolMorris.com. Retrieved March 11, 2008.
  12. ^ a b Martin, Douglas (June 25, 2011). "Randall Adams, 61, Dies – Freed With Help of Film". The New York Times. Retrieved December 27, 2012.
  13. ^ Morris, Errol (February 2, 1989). "Predilections". The New York Times. Retrieved January 12, 2010.
  14. ^ Adams v. State, 577 S.W.2d 717 (Tex. Cr. App. 1979) (en banc), at [2].
  15. ^ Bell, Laura (July 26, 1995). "Groups Expel Psychiatrist Known for Murder Cases; Witness nicknamed 'Dr. Death' says license won't be affected by allegations". Dallas Morning News. Archived from the original on March 7, 2009. Retrieved March 21, 2009.
  16. ^ "Effect of "Dr. Death" and his testimony lingers". Houston Chronicle. June 27, 2004.
  17. ^ Adams v. Texas, 448 U.S. 38, 100 S.Ct. 2521, 65 L.Ed.2d 581 (1980), at [3].
  18. ^ Adams v. State, 624 S.W.2d 568 (Tex. Cr. App. 1981) (en banc), at [4].
  19. ^ a b Jackson, David (May 14, 1988). "INMATE INNOCENT, CONVICT SAYS: But ruling could block new trial in slaying of Dallas officer". Dallas Morning News. Retrieved March 11, 2008.
  20. ^ Ex parte Adams, 768 S.W.2d 281 (Tex. Ct. Crim. App. 1989) (en banc), at [5].
  21. ^ Gross, Bruce (December 22, 2004). "Dangerous predictions: the case of Randall Dale Adams". American College of Forensic Examiners. Archived from the original on January 27, 2016. Retrieved October 7, 2015.
  22. ^ Tomaso, Bruce (July 5, 1989). "Possibilities beckon beyond 'Thin Blue Line': Film maker hopes to capitalize on his documentary's acclaim". Dallas Morning News. Retrieved March 11, 2008.
  23. ^ Jackson, David (March 3, 1989). "ADAMS BLAMES MULDER FOR MURDER CONVICTION". Dallas Morning News. Retrieved March 11, 2008.
  24. ^ "Presumed Guilty". Fort Worth Star-Telegram. July 14, 1991. Retrieved March 11, 2008.
  25. ^ "HOW THE BEST LAWYERS STACK UP". D Magazine. May 1, 2001. Retrieved March 11, 2008.
  26. ^ "The Thin Blue Line Transcript". ErrolMorris.com. 2009. Retrieved March 11, 2008.
  27. ^ Miller, Bobbi (March 24, 1989). "DA DROPS MURDER CHARGE AGAINST ADAMS". Dallas Morning News. Retrieved March 11, 2008.
  28. ^ Applebome, Peter; Times, Special To the New York (December 2, 1988). "'76 Prosecution in Dallas Murder Case Is Assailed". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 7, 2020.
  29. ^ "Inmate Profiled in Documentary Put to Death". Los Angeles Times. July 1, 2004. Retrieved February 7, 2020.
  30. ^ "David Ray Harris #916". clarkprosecutor.org. Retrieved June 25, 2010.
  31. ^ Stone, Rachel (June 28, 2004). "Convicted killer to be executed". Beaumont Enterprise. Retrieved March 11, 2008.
  32. ^ "'Thin Blue Line' prisoner executed in Texas: Killed man in 1985, falsely implicated another in officer's slaying". NBC News. June 30, 2004. Retrieved March 11, 2008.
  33. ^ "Freed Inmate Settles Suit With Producer Over Rights to Story". The New York Times. August 6, 1989. Retrieved March 11, 2008.
  34. ^ "Danny Yeager Interviews Randall Dale Adams". X (3). The Touchstone. Summer 2000. Archived from the original on February 22, 2001. Retrieved March 11, 2008.
  35. ^ "An Interview with Errol Morris". Wisconsin Public Radio. July 2, 2004. Retrieved March 11, 2008.
  36. ^ Adams, Randall Dale, with William Hoffer and Marilyn Mona Hoffer. Adams V. Texas, (St. Martin's Press, June 1992); ISBN 978-0312927783.
  37. ^ "Adams v. The Death Penalty". Columbus Alive. November 15, 2001. Archived from the original on December 28, 2007. Retrieved March 11, 2008.
  38. ^ "RANDALL DALE ADAMS RIP". Journey of Hope. Retrieved July 25, 2016.
  39. ^ Ball, Linda Stewart. "Texas exoneree featured in 'Thin Blue Line' dies". khou.com. Archived from the original on June 30, 2011. Retrieved June 25, 2011.

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