EDMOND, Okla. – According to The Innocence Project, more than three hundred convicted criminals have been exonerated of their crimes by DNA evidence.
As forensic science has continued to improve DNA has been is the key to unlocking innocence in those cases.
But, those convicted of crimes where there is no DNA evidence have no such protection.
Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide.
According to experts in this area of law enforcement, and hundreds of studies, eyewitness identification is often wrong.
Today criminal cases rarely rely solely on eyewitness testimony, but for decades it was the often the deciding factor.
The Edmond Liquor Store Murder
December 30, 1974, two suspects held-up the Edmond Liquor Store and shot two women in the process.
A clerk, Carolyn Sue Rogers, was killed, and a customer, Belinda Brown, was wounded but survived.
The Edmond Police Department launched a statewide hunt for the killers; every one of the department’s four detectives was assigned to the case.
Former Edmond Detective Gary Carson recovered the evidence from the crime scene.
“It was a big deal because Edmond had only recently begun to have any homicides” Carson told NewsChannel 4 in 2003. “I had helped process the crime scene myself, and there was little if any usable evidence came from the crime scene.”
Police reports show detectives interviewed Belinda Brown three days after the murder. She was still in the hospital recovering from a gunshot wound to her head.
“I think she was just in a state of shock and just glad to be alive.” said composite sketch artist Jim Garr in 2003 about his interview with Belinda Brown in 1975. “It was difficult to get details from her, but I think we got enough that we were finally able to get enough to come up with a composite sketch.”
According to police reports of the interview with authorities the lead detective asked Brown: “OK, do you think if you were given more time you could remember anything else about what happened, if you thought real hard you might be able to come up with some.”
Belinda Brown answered: “No” “I think if I waited much longer it would get all jumbled up in my mind…”
Brown would go on to pick a handful of different suspects in as many as nine police line-ups.
Police reports indicate detectives recovered at least one usable finger print, and a bullet.
But, police later said in court there were no fingerprints lifted from the scene of the murder.
Edmond Police have reviewed this portion of the murder investigation.
Police spokesperson Jennifer Monroe said in statement: “The 18 year old victim never positively identified anyone until Don Roberts and Glen [sic] Simmons were in a physical line up at OCPD. She was even shown a potential suspect earlier in the investigation and said it wasn’t him. “
By the first part of February in 1975, more than a month after the murder, the community of Edmond was getting anxious about the search for the killers.
The headline in The Daily Oklahoman was “Investigation of Edmond Slaying Runs Into ‘Dead End'”
The lead detective told reporters, there were no suspects in the murder of Carolyn Sue Rogers. Their leads had all run dry.
The victim’s sister, Janice Smith, remembers asking police what they knew about the case.
“When I would call up there they would say they’re working on it. They would let me know if anything happened. That’s the last I heard.” said Smith.
Behind the scenes, police were convinced they’d found the killers because by mid February Oklahoma County District Attorney, Curtis Harris had charged two black men with the Edmond Liquor Store murder.
Don Roberts of Oklahoma City and Glynn Simmons of Louisiana were charged with First Degree Murder in the death of Carolyn Sue Rogers.
The scales of justice tip differently today than they did in 1974.
The suspects were tried at the same time, in a jury trial that took just two and a half days.
Both Roberts and Simmons were appointed public defenders by the court. Simmons’ attorney, Henry Floyd was later disbarred citing more than 50 courtroom complaints.
Defense attorney, Dan Murdock, was an Assistant District Attorney in Oklahoma County in 1975.
Murdock presented the case against Roberts and Simmons at preliminary hearing.
“You go with what you got, and you let a jury decide.” Murdock said. “You know your feelings and attitudes and opinions on things change over the years. Now looking back on it, there are things I’d have done different, sure.”
There was no physical evidence introduced at preliminary hearing or trial. The only evidence was the eyewitness account of the 18-year-old customer, Belinda Brown.
In fact, the other surviving witness, Norma Hankins refused to point the finger at Simmons and Roberts in court. She told the jury all she saw was the gun.
But, Belinda Brown, who had been shot in the back of the head after seeing the suspects for a split-second, was 100 percent sure.
“(The jury) relied on eyewitness testimony. But now we’ve seen that’s not always the best (evidence.)” Murdock said.
The convincing testimony of that 18-year-old witness put both men on death row.
The jury sentenced Don Roberts and Glynn Simmons to death, and in Oklahoma in 1975, there was only one punishment for capital murder, electrocution.
The Possibility of Innocence
Don Roberts and Glynn Simmons have always maintained their innocence.
Both spent decades behind bars. Don Roberts served 33 years before he was paroled. Glynn Simmons is still in prison.
Roberts was 21 years old when he went on trial for murder. He is 60 years old now. He was paroled five years ago, and he now lives in Edmond.
“As long as I’ve got another breath, I’m gonna keep moving on. I’m not going to let this bother me. I can’t.” said Roberts.
Simmons has served 39 years, two months and two weeks. His death sentence, along with Roberts’, was modified to life by state law in 1978. Simmons is still waiting for the next round of mercy.
“I’m not too interested in justice right now. Justice is something that God dispenses. I’m looking for mercy. I’ll make my appeal for mercy.” Simmons said. “I appeal to the higher conscience of man to show mercy.”
“I don’t think he did it. I really don’t..” said the murder victim’s sister Janice Smith.
Smith wrote a letter to Simmons a few years ago.
She is now convinced Simmons is innocent.
“I hope he does get out. I believe he’s innocent.” Smith said. “He shouldn’t have to be in there this long.”
The Pardon and Parole Board is Glynn Simmons’ last hope.
Simmons has the support of the victim’s family and the prosecutor who put him on death row.
Former Oklahoma County Assistant District Attorney, Bob Mildfelt has written a letter of support to the Pardon and Parole Board in support of Glynn Simmons saying, in part, “I remember your case very well. I realize the evidence was thing against you…. Your case has troubled me these many years because of the many questions unanswered by the evidence we had.”
Because the case had no DNA evidence, Simmons is not eligible for a DNA analysis.
“I believe in the system.” Simmons said. “I have always believed, even when it didn’t do me right. I still believed in it. And I think it’ll work.”
Glynn Simmons appeared before the Pardon and Parole Board in April.
His parole was denied after two of four board members voted to recommend parole.
He won’t be eligible again for three more years.
Don Roberts, who was paroled in 2008 still wages a war on bitterness and anger every single day.
“I can’t change what is happened. But I pray to god that whoever knowingly did it, whoever convicted me knowingly, may they be cursed.” Roberts said. “You took everything I had. The only thing you didn’t take from me is my life. You put me on death row. You put me in a pit, and I had to survive that pit.”
Roberts and Simmons were strangers the day of the murder. They say, they’d met once at a party, weeks after the murder and before their arrest.
They are strangers still.
One convicted murderer is a free man who served his time; one convicted murderer is still behind bars.
They both fall asleep at night wondering who killed Carolyn Sue Rogers.
They both wonder who got away with the perfect crime.
“A perfect crime is when an innocent person is convicted.” Roberts said. “It’s the perfect crime. So whoever did that did the perfect crime.”
“I think the real crime is ignoring it and refusing to correct it.” Simmons said. “That’s what the real crime occurs.”
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater is reviewing the case.
Prater is looking through available police reports, the preliminary hearing and trail transcript.
The Edmond Police Department sent this statement:
“This case was reviewed by the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s office 10 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. One juvenile positively identified Don Roberts in a lineup at the Oklahoma City Police Department.
The 18 year old victim never positively identified anyone until Don Roberts and Glen [sic] Simmons were in a physical line up at OCPD. She was even shown a potential suspect earlier in the investigation and said it wasn’t him.
Both suspects were wearing distinctive hats and upon search of Don Robert’s brother-in-law’s apartment two hats with similar descriptions given by the victim and witnesses were found in his apartment. Don Robert’s brother in law said he borrowed the hats regularly and when detectives interviewed Don Roberts he confirmed this.
Don Roberts bought a .22 caliber snub nose revolver at a pawn shop days before the robbery/homicide. This weapon matched the description of the weapon used in this crime.
Both defendants’ alibis didn’t check out during the investigation.
We have no reason to believe the wrong people were prosecuted for this crime. “