Our Case Files: These amazing people each endured an average of 20 years imprisoned for a crime they did not commit. Only a handful of them have received compensation for the injustice they have survived. Read their compelling stories.
St. Louis, MO
Based primarily on the false eyewitness account by a career criminal informant for the St. Louis Police, Darryl Burton spent 24 years wrongly confined in Missouri prisons for the 1984 fatal shooting of Donald Ball at an Amoco gas station. The African American cashier that was present at the gas station at the time of the shooting testified at a 2007 post conviction hearing that she had told the police they had the wrong man because the shooter was light complected and Mr. Burton is very dark skinned. Freeing Darryl in August 2008, the Cole County judge found this witness’ certainty that Mr. Burton was not the killer to be “clear, credible, and powerful”. The judge also ruled that the informant’s extensive criminal history was kept from the defense; and had the jury known of it, it would have provided “persuasive evidence of the defendant’s innocence”.
the full story…
Donald Ball was murdered at a St. Louis, MO Amoco gas station at about 9:45 p.m. on June 4, 1984. Witnesses said that as Ball was pumping gas into his car, a lone gunman approached him and fired a shot hitting Ball in the arm. Ball immediately ran and the shooter chased him, firing another shot into Ball’s leg which brought him to the ground. The assailant stood over the bleeding body of Donald Ball, fired the fatal shot into his back at point blank range, and then ran off into the night.
Customers of the gas station who witnessed the crime could only give a vague description of a light skinned Black male with a short afro wearing khaki pants and a yellow shirt. The crime scene yielded no physical evidence outside of the bullet casing. Two of Donald Ball’s relatives told police that Ball had been shot just a year earlier by Jesse Watson, a drug dealer with whom Ball was having a drug turf war. Watson, they said, had tried to kill Ball and skipped town after the failed attempt.
Police stated that two days after the crime they received a tip. Eddie Walker who was accompanied by a man only known as “Tampa Red” approached police saying he’d witnessed the crime and that Darryl Burton was the shooter. Soon another man, Claudix Simmons, identified Burton as the shooter as well. Less than a month after the crime, Darryl Burton was arrested. The state’s two key witnesses, Eddie Walker and Claudix Simmons, were the key to Burton’s conviction. While Burton knew the victim, there was no bad blood between them and no motive was ever presented by police.
Centurion Ministries began its investigation of Darryl’s conviction in 2000.
CM found that Eddie Walker’s story of what happened varied greatly every time he gave a statement. Walker died in 1996, but our investigation found multiple friends of Walker who all described him as a drunkard, a liar, and devoid of scruples. CM found Danny Pennington, a friend of Walker’s who stated that he was with Mr. Walker one block away from the shooting when it occurred. When Pennington read the testimony given by Walker wherein he identified Mr. Burton as the shooter, Mr. Pennington blurted out, “That’s a lie! I was with Eddie when he heard the shots! We didn’t see nobody!”
CM found “Tampa Red” who stated in an affidavit that he didn’t remember anyone named Eddie Walker from his neighborhood and did not even recognize Walker when shown a photo of him.
CM tracked down Claudix Simmons. Simmons admitted to CM that he had lied at trial. Simmons explained that he falsely identified Burton as part of a deal to avoid many years of state prison time for the crimes he was charged with at the time.
When CM interviewed the gas station cashier, an African American woman named Joan Williams, she said that she had told the police that they’d gotten the wrong man because the shooter, whom she had plainly seen, was an African American much lighter in skin color than the dark skinned Darryl Burton.
In April of 2007, an evidentiary hearing was held and by August of 2008, Darryl Burton’s conviction was reversed and charges were dropped. This victory capped an eight year effort on the part of CM, attorney Cheryl Pilate, and local St. Louis investigator, Dan Clark. In his decision, the judge ruled that “the evidence of guilt presented at trial was extremely weak” in that the eyewitness accounts by Walker and Simmons were “repeatedly impeached”. The judge found the evidentiary hearing testimony of the cashier, Joan Williams, to be “clear, credible, and powerful” and her “lack of any motive to falsify her testimony in this court [makes her] very believable”. The judge further stated that her testimony “that Burton, whom she described as dark skinned, was definitely not the light complected assailant is also credible” as is her testimony “that she had no doubt whatsoever that the shooter was not Burton”.
The judge ruled that the defense was never provided with the extensive criminal history of Claudex Simmons. He was portrayed by the prosecutor as someone with only a minor record of two robbery convictions, when in fact, he had seven felony convictions, and six misdemeanor convictions. Judge Callahan found that if the jury had known of Mr. Simmons’ real criminal history, “this evidence would have provided Mr. Burton with plausible and persuasive evidence of the defendant’s innocence”.
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By Nicole Skibola
April 7, 2011
Verbatim: by Darryl A. Burton
The NACDL Champion
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September 3, 2009