Randall Dale Adams
|Randall Dale Adams|
December 17, 1948|
Grove City, Ohio, U.S.
|Died||October 30, 2010
Washington Court House, Ohio, U.S.
|Occupation||U.S. anti death-penalty activist|
|Criminal penalty||Death by lethal injection; commuted to life in prison|
|Criminal status||Convicted (1977); overturned (1989)|
Randall Dale Adams (December 17, 1948 – October 30, 2010) was an American former prison inmate. He was wrongfully convicted of the November 28, 1976 murder of Dallas, Texas police officer Robert W. Wood and sentenced to death. His conviction was overturned in 1979; his sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment by Governor Bill Clements.
Throughout his legal ordeal, Adams maintained his innocence. He insisted that the man he believed to be Wood’s killer, David Ray Harris, had picked him up earlier on the day of the shooting. Adams said his own car had run out of gasoline and Harris gave him a ride. They'd 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.
Randall Adams was the subject of the 1988 documentary film The Thin Blue Line. It is 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. He later uncovered evidence of prosecutorial misconduct and eyewitness misidentification. During an interview with Harris, who was incarcerated for the 1985 murder of Mark Mays, Morris was able to audio record him giving a pseudo-confession to the Wood murder. In 2004, Harris was executed by lethal injection for Mays' murder. He was not charged with Robert Woods’ murder.
Early life and education
Adams was born in Grove City, Ohio, 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.
Robert W. Wood murder conviction
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, 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. 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, and the shooter of Officer Wood.
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.
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.)
Adams' conviction was unanimously upheld by the Texas Courts of Appeals.
Commutation of death sentence
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.
In May 1988, David Ray Harris, at that point himself a prisoner on Death Row, admitted that Adams was not even in the car on the night of the murder. The August 1988 release of The Thin Blue Line further cast doubt on Adams' guilt, but the case remained in legal limbo.
In 1989, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Ex parte Adams 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. 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's whereabouts. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said that "conviction was unfair mainly because of prosecutor Doug Mulder." (Mulder returned to practice private law in Dallas in 1981.)
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, and Adams was released.
Despite being wrongly imprisoned for twelve years, Adams received no payment from the state of Texas. It is said that if Adams had been 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.
David Ray Harris
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.
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. 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."
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."
Activism and personal life
While in prison he earned a correspondence-course degree from Lee College in Baytown, Texas. 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.
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.
Adams died of a brain tumor in Washington Court House, Ohio on October 30, 2010, aged 61. He lived a quiet life divorced from his past. According to his lawyer, Randy Schaffer, the death was reported only locally but was more widely reported on June 25, 2011.
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