Randall Dale Adams

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Randall Dale Adams
Born (1948-12-17)December 17, 1948
Grove City, Ohio, U.S.
Died October 30, 2010(2010-10-30) (aged 61)
Washington Court House, Ohio, U.S.
Occupation U.S. anti death-penalty activist
Criminal charge Murder
Criminal penalty Death by lethal injection; commuted to life in prison
Criminal status Convicted (1977). Conviction overturned (1989)
Spouse(s) Jill Fratta

Randall Dale Adams (December 17, 1948 – October 30, 2010[1]) was a man who was wrongly convicted of murdering police officer Robert W. Wood and was subsequently sentenced to death. He served more than 12 years in prison and some of that time on death row.[2][3] His death sentence was reduced through appeal to the United States Supreme Court,[4] and eight years later he was released when evidence was uncovered to prove his innocence.

His case is profiled in the 1988 documentary film The Thin Blue Line, and the evidence presented in the film had a significant impact on obtaining his release.[5]

Early life and education[edit]

Adams was born in Grove City, Ohio,[6] 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.[6]

Robert W. Wood murder conviction[edit]


In October 1976, 28-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.[6] On the following Saturday, 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.

David Ray Harris, who had just turned sixteen, came by 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 also had some alcohol and 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).

Robert W Wood, a Dallas police officer, was working the graveyard shift with his partner, one of the first female police officers in Dallas that was assigned to patrol. Shortly after midnight, Wood stopped the stolen car in the 3400 block of N. Hampton Road because the car's headlights were not on. As Wood walked up to the car, he was shot twice and killed by someone in the car.

The Dallas Police Department investigation led back to Harris, who after returning to Vidor had told friends that he was responsible for the crime. When interviewed by police, Harris accused Adams of the murder.[7][8] 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,[6] 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, and the shooter of Officer Wood.[6]

Testimony by Harris and questionable eyewitnesses (including Emily Miller and R. L. Miller) led to Adams' conviction. Texas forensic psychiatrist James Grigson (a.k.a. "Dr. Death") told the jury that Adams would be an ongoing menace if kept alive.[9] As a result of this testimony, Adams was given the death penalty. (In 1995, Grigson was expelled by the American Psychiatric Association and the Texas Society of Psychiatric Physicians for unethical conduct.)[10][11]

Adams' conviction was unanimously upheld by the Texas Courts of Appeals.

Commutation of death sentence[edit]

Main article: Adams v. Texas

Adams' execution was 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 held on an 8–1 vote that a Texas requirement that jurors 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 was unconstitutional. As a result of the decision, Texas Governor Bill Clements commuted Adams' sentence to life in prison.[1]


In May 1988, David Ray Harris, at that point himself a prisoner on death row, admitted that Adams wasn't even in the car on the night of the murder.[12] The August 1988 release of The Thin Blue Line further cast Adam's guilt into doubt, but the case remained in legal limbo.[12]

Finally, in 1989 the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Ex parte Adams[13] 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.[14][15] 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. Further, 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's whereabouts. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said (and Adams agreed) that "conviction was unfair mainly because of prosecutor Doug Mulder."[16][17] (Prosecutor Mulder had returned to practice private law in Dallas in 1981.)[18]

After the appeals court decision in 1989, the Dallas County District Attorney decided not to re-try the case based on the length of time since the original crime — Adams was finally released.[19][20][21][22]

Despite being wrongly imprisoned for twelve years, Adams received no payment from the state of Texas.[1] It is said that if Adams were “found to be wrongly convicted under today’s law in Texas, he would get $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, not pardoned, he received no payment from the state after his release for his wrongful conviction.[8]

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.

In 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.[23][24][25]


After 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.[26] 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."[27]

Morris, for his part, remembers: "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."[28]

Activism and personal life[edit]

While in prison he earned a correspondence-course degree from Lee College in Baytown, Texas.[6]

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.[29] In 2001, at an anti-death penalty legislative hearing on behalf of the Texas Moratorium Network, Adams said:

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


Adams died of a brain tumor in Washington Court House, Ohio on October 30, 2010.[31] He had chosen to live a quiet life divorced from his past; according to his lawyer, Randy Schaffer, the death was reported only locally. It became more widely reported on 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". NYTimes.com. Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  2. ^ Suro, Roberto (March 2, 1989). "CONVICTION VOIDED IN TEXAS MURDER". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-11. 
  3. ^ Suro, Roberto (November 27, 1988). "DEATH ROW LUCK: 'I'M STILL ALIVE'". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2008-03-11. 
  4. ^ "Randall Dale Adams returns to Dallas". Austin American-Statesman. December 4, 1989. Retrieved 2008-03-11. 
  5. ^ "`Blue Line' inmate freed after 12 years". Chicago Tribune. March 22, 1989. Retrieved 2008-03-11. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f Montgomery Brower, Anne Maier, Ken Myers, Sandra Gurvis. "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)
  7. ^ "The Thin Blue Line Transcript". ErrolMorris.com. Retrieved 2008-03-11. 
  8. ^ a b Martin, Douglas (June 25, 2011). "Randall Adams, 61, Dies - Freed With Help of Film". New York Times. Retrieved 2012-12-27. 
  9. ^ Morris, Errol (February 2, 1989). "Predilections". The New York Times. Retrieved January 12, 2010. 
  10. ^ 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. Retrieved March 21, 2009. 
  11. ^ "Effect of "Dr. Death" and his testimony lingers". Houston Chronicle. June 27, 2004. 
  12. ^ 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 2008-03-11. 
  13. ^ 768 S.W.2d 281 (Tex. Ct. Crim. App. 1989) (en banc), at [1].
  14. ^ Gross, Bruce (December 22, 2004). "Dangerous predictions: the case of Randall Dale Adams". American College of Forensic Examiners. Retrieved 2015-10-07. 
  15. ^ 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 2008-03-11. 
  16. ^ Jackson, David (March 3, 1989). "ADAMS BLAMES MULDER FOR MURDER CONVICTION". Dallas Morning News. Retrieved 2008-03-11. 
  17. ^ "Presumed Guilty". Fort Worth Star-Telegram. July 14, 1991. Retrieved 2008-03-11. 
  18. ^ "HOW THE BEST LAWYERS STACK UP". D Magazine. May 1, 2001. Retrieved 2008-03-11. 
  19. ^ "The Thin Blue Line Transcript". ErrolMorris.com. 2009. Retrieved 2008-03-11. 
  20. ^ Suro, Roberto (March 2, 1989). "CONVICTION VOIDED IN TEXAS MURDER". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-11. 
  21. ^ Suro, Roberto (November 27, 1988). "DEATH ROW LUCK: 'I'M STILL ALIVE'". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2008-03-11. 
  22. ^ Miller, Bobbi (March 24, 1989). "DA DROPS MURDER CHARGE AGAINST ADAMS". Dallas Morning News. Retrieved 2008-03-11. 
  23. ^ "David Ray Harris #916". clarkprosecutor.org. Retrieved 2010-06-25. 
  24. ^ Stone, Rachel (June 28, 2004). "Convicted killer to be executed". Beaumont Enterprise. Retrieved 2008-03-11. 
  25. ^ "‘Thin Blue Line’ prisoner executed in Texas: Killed man in 1985, falsely implicated another in officer's slaying". MSNBC. June 30, 2004. Retrieved 2008-03-11. 
  26. ^ "Freed Inmate Settles Suit With Producer Over Rights to Story". New York Times. August 6, 1989. Retrieved 2008-03-11. 
  27. ^ "Danny Yeager Interviews Randall Dale Adams" X (3). The Touchstone. Summer 2000. Archived from the original on 2001-02-22. Retrieved 2008-03-11. 
  28. ^ "An Interview with Errol Morris". Wisconsin Public Radio. July 2, 2004. Retrieved 2008-03-11. 
  29. ^ Adams, Randall Dale, with William Hoffer and Marilyn Mona Hoffer. Adams V. Texas, (St. Martin's Press, June 1992). ISBN 978-0312927783.
  30. ^ "Adams v. The Death Penalty". Columbus Alive. November 15, 2001. Retrieved 2008-03-11. 
  31. ^ Ball, Linda Stewart. "Texas exoneree featured in ‘Thin Blue Line’ dies". khou.com. Retrieved 25 June 2011. 

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