Concealed Exculpatory Evidence and New Palm Print Evidence Frees Wrongfully Convicted Man After 21 Years in Prison
by Douglas Ankney
In April 2021, Jonathan Smith, Sr. was freed after serving nearly 21 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. Last year, the Maryland Court of Appeals unanimously reversed the 2001 murder convictions against Smith and his codefendant, David Faulkner, and granted both men Writs of Actual Innocence. Faulkner v. State, 227 A.3d 584 (Md. 2020). But Smith’s ordeal isn’t over.
Smith and Faulkner were convicted of the 1987 murder of 64-year-old Adeline Wilford. A third codefendant, Ray Earl Andrews, Sr. was 16 at the time of the crime, and he was sentenced to 10 years for burglary in exchange for testifying against the two older men.
The case had grown cold for 13 years until witness Beverly Haddaway falsely claimed she saw the three men fleeing from the crime scene with blood on their clothes. A jury convicted Smith and sentenced him to life in prison.
Ten years later, lawyers from the Innocence Project and the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project filed public information requests. For the first time, Maryland State Police disclosed recordings of the interviews between Haddaway and Maryland State Police Corporal John Bollinger. The recordings revealed that Haddaway had demanded the state dismiss unrelated drug charges pending against her grandson in exchange for her testimony against Smith and Faulkner. It was also revealed that the state refused to put the deal in writing so that Haddaway couldn’t be cross-examined on the issue.
Based on these recordings, Smith successfully moved for testing of unidentified palm prints on the sill of an open window of Wilford’s home. In 2015, the state acknowledged that the prints matched Ty Anthony Brooks who had earlier served prison time for a similar burglary and assault on an elderly woman near the time of Wilford’s murder.
Unbelievably, it was also revealed that DNA recovered from beneath Wilford’s fingernails matched neither Wilford nor the defendants. But shortly before trial, the prosecutor had advised defense counsel that the fingernail clippings showed only the victim’s DNA.
Despite this overwhelming evidence of innocence, Smith was facing retrial. In April 2021, he entered an Alford plea under which he expressly maintains his innocence and allows him to appeal all earlier decisions in his case, including his position that the charges against him must be dismissed. Smith is represented by Susan Friedman and Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project with assistance from several other attorneys from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher, & Flom LLP.
Source: forensicmag.com, InnocenceProject.org
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