OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) — What happens when an innocent man goes to prison for a crime he did not commit?
Glynn Simmons was convicted of murder in 1975.
He was sentenced to death for a killing that became known as “the Edmond liquor store murder.”
Twenty years ago, Simmons sent News 4 a letter from prison, and KFOR’s Ali Meyer started investigating, bringing to light questions about the evidence and the trial.
Meyer has interviewed Simmons in prison twice.
She followed his case through the pardon and parole process, where he was denied a dozen times.
Earlier this year, an Oklahoma County judge ruled in Simmons favor, declaring from the bench the same thing Simmons has been saying for 50 years: his trial was unfair.
On December 30th, 1974, Glynn Simmons was 22 years old.
He was in Harvey, Louisiana, on the night two Black men shot-up the Edmond Liquor Store with three white women inside.
One woman was wounded and survived.
Carolyn Sue Rogers was killed.
“It was a big deal in Edmond because Edmond had only recently begun to have any homicides,” remembered Gary Carson in 2003.
According to police reports, Edmond and Oklahoma City Police detectives interviewed the surviving eyewitness, who had been shot in the back of the head.
Belinda Brown, 18, described two assailants for composite sketch artist, Jim Garr.
“I think she was in a state of shock and just glad to be alive,” said Garr.
After she was released from the hospital, Brown started picking suspects out of a police lineup.
According to police reports from 1975, the first man she picked had an alibi.
Local newspapers printed several stories about the Edmond Liquor Store murder indicating the trail had gone cold.
Six Weeks Later
Under pressure to solve the crime, detectives organized some additional lineups at Oklahoma City Police Headquarters.
The single eyewitness participated in eight different lineups.
She identified at least five different Black men.
In 2003, Simmons told News 4, “I never was picked out of a lineup. I’m still trying to figure out how did I get identified as the suspect? How did the police make me the suspect when the witness didn’t even identify me?”
Glynn Simmons also had an alibi. He was in Louisiana on the night of the murder; Edmond Police never checked.
Even though Brown never picked Simmons out of a police lineup, the department named him the suspect.
Oklahoma County District Attorney Curtis Harris charged him with the crime.
“I went to death row on just one person who said ‘He did it.'” Simmons said.
Simmons‘ attorney, Henry Floyd, who was later disbarred, likely had no idea the witness had picked out so many others because that police report wasn’t in the court file.
The prosecutor never turned that exculpatory evidence over to the defense.
And so, for decades, Glynn Simmons penned his own filings, begging the court to take another look.
“I believe in the system,” Simmons said in 2014. “Even when it didn’t do me right, I’ve always believed in the system.”
In 1997, Simmons he hired a private investigator.
Investigator Mike Nobles found that exulpatory police report missing from the file.
The Edmond City Attorney turned it over to Nobles in 1997.
Five years later, Simmons wrote a letter to News 4 and asked for help.
“I remember on death row somebody told me, ‘You can always get out of prison, but you can’t get out of the grave.’ So, you know, everyday above ground is a good day.”
For nearly five decades, Simmons languished behind bars, unable to prove his innocence in court and unwilling to admit guilt to parole out.
The prosecutor who sent Simmons to death row, Robert Mildfelt, wrote several letters to the Oklahoma State Pardon and Parole Board on Simmons’ behalf.
“Everytime I go before the parole board, I get the feeling they want me to show remorse and take responsibility for the crime,” said Simmons. “I can’t do it. It’s not my crime. I didn’t do it.”
In 2019, Glynn Simmons hired a new attorney, Joe Norwood.
At the time, Norwood Law was getting nationwide attention for winning a wrongful conviction case in Tulsa County.
A prison friend of Simmons reached out Norwood, who agreed to take the case after watching several KFOR news stories.
Norwood has spent hundreds of hours sifting through Simmons’s file.
In 2022, he built the case for Simmons’s wrongful conviction.
“I was willing to help him because it was clear he’s innocent,” Norwood said. “We had the facts to show innocence.”
For the first time in 48 years, legal counsel mounted a legitimate defense worthy of an innocent man.
In April of 2023, Norwood was granted an evidence hearing in Oklahoma County District Court.
During that hearing, he brought more than a dozen alibi witnesses to testify on Simmons’s behalf.
Additionally, the week before the evidence hearing, the newly elected district attorney made a surprise announcement.
In April, District Attorney Vicki Behenna called a press conference where she told reporters, “There was a police report, a significant police report, that was not turned over. So, we came to the conclusion because we believe in fair and just trials in Oklahoma, that we should file an application requesting a new trial.”
In July 2023, Judge Amy Palumbo tossed out Simmons’s murder conviction and set him free.
“I can’t even really put it into words, seeing him reunited with his family,” said Norwood. “It’s just, it’s hard to describe.”
Glynn Simmons walked out of court that day unshackled, undeterred by the challenge ahead; learning how to live in a world he left fifty years ago.
Glynn Simmons spent 48 years, five months, 18 days behind bars for a crime he did not commit.
After his exoneration, he decided to build his life anew in Oklahoma.
Within days of being released from prison, Simmons walked into Oklahoma County’s Diversion Hub.
“We exist to support people impacted by the criminal legal system,” said TEEM Pretrial Release Case Management Supervisor, Stacy Kastner.
Freedom can be disorienting, especially after fifty years of defeats.
“They don’t know what to do or what direction to go. who to go to,” said Diversion Hub Case Manager, Dale Edwards. “We’re just going to support this man and help him in any way we can because I just can’t imagine being locked up 48 years.”
So much has changed since 1974.
Simmons met an old friend at Diversion Hub, John Parker.
Parker did 18 years at Joseph Harp Correctional Center in the same block as Glynn Simmons.
Parker has been out of prison since 2010, and giving back as a full time employee at Diversion Hub.
“Someone that I walked those halls with,” Parker said. “To get out and be able to help him re-integrate into society is awesome.”
The team is helping Simmons re-establish healthcare, purchase a cell phone, get a birth certificate, food stamps and rent assistance.
Simmons is renting a home in Oklahoma City, and he’s joined the fight for criminal justice reform.
“I’ve been discouraged for years and years, but discouragement, that’s just juice to me,” Simmons said. “You just keep going, you know.”
Justice has been an exercise in endurance for Simmons, who spent 50 years fighting death by incarceration.
Today, he fighting a war on two fronts.
This year, Simmons was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer.
“I believe in a higher power,” he said. “I’m calm. I’m good. I’ve always been good. I’ve been pissed off, but i’m good.”
Glynn Simmons is the longest-serving wrongful conviction exoneree in United States history.
He blames police conspiracy for his miscarriage of justice.
The proof of that was uncovered by private investigator, Mike Nobles, 25 years ago.
“We look back on that period of time, and he was easy. He was easy, and he went, and there wasn’t a big fight,” Nobles said. “I just wish I had done more. Oh God, I wish I had done more because he deserved it.”
The police department’s failure to turn over that police report was a violation of Simmons’s constitutional right to a fair trial.
In Oklahoma, one in five convicts returns to prison within three years.
Simmons is determined to beat those odds.
He credits his success on the outside to a loving family who has supported him at every turn.
Two months after Simmons was released from prison, D.A. Behenna dropped all charges against him.
He is a free man, grateful to all who played a role; fueled by passion to help others like him.
“There’s a lot of guys left behind,” Simmons said. “They went through the same thing I went through, but they didn’t have an Ali Meyer or a Joe Norwood. They just keep struggling for years and years.”
Simmons’s journey is a tragedy of injustice, born a lifetime ago in Edmond, Oklahoma.
“I spent 48 years of my life for commiting a crime in this city; (a city) I ain’t ever been in before.”
A walk through downtown Edmond, for this man in this town, is a deliverance of sorts.
First steps of freedom begin a fresh chapter in a new and beautiful life.
While the Oklahoma County District Attorney has admitted Glynn Simmons was wrongfully convicted in an unfair trial, the office will not declare he is is innocent.
Most of the individuals who were closely involved in the conviction of Glynn Simmons in 1975 are no longer alive.
The district attorney, defense attorney, judge, officers and others are all dead.
However, the eyewitness who identified Simmons in court, Belinda Brown, is still alive.
She believes she picked the right man.
A spokesperson for Edmond Police issued this statement in 2014:
“This case was reviewed by the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s office ten years ago. There were no problems found with the prosecution of this case then. The 18 year old victim was not the only witness involved in this investigation. Three juvenile males saw the suspect vehicle circling numerous times on Broadway with two black males inside both wearing hats. (The) defendants alibis didn’t check out during the investigation. We have no reason to believe the wrong people were prosecuted for this crime.“
The current police spokesperson tells News 4, the department does not have an updated statement for this case.
Glynn Simmons’ attorneys have asked a judge for a finding of innocence, which will lay the groundwork for a potential lawsuit against all of the agencies involved in his wrongful conviction.
According to Oklahoma Statute, wrongfully convicted defendants like Glynn Simmons are limited to $175,000 in compensation, which is $3,645 for each year he spent behind bars for a crime he did not commit.
He may be eligible for a larger settlement in federal court, where the burden of proof is more difficult to meet.