In 1994, Glen Edward Chapman was convicted of killing Tenene Yvette Conley and Betty Jean Ramseur. He has spent every day of the last 14 years on death row, protesting his innocence. Yesterday, a judge ordered that Chapman should receive a new trial because police withheld evidence, lost or destroyed documents, and the lead investigator perjured himself on the stand. The judge also noted that the evidence against Chapman was circumstantial, that he received ineffective assistance of counsel, and that one of the women he is accused of killing was likely not murdered at all.
Tenene Yvette Conley
Ms. Conley was found dead in the closet of an abandoned house. Mr. Chapman’s sperm was found in her body. The State theorized that Chapman killed Ms. Conley shortly after they were seen together on August 13, 1992. Detectives did not reveal statements from numerous witnesses who saw Ms. Conley alive and with other people – including a man with a history of violence against her – the day after the State claimed she was murdered. A review of records by forensic pathologists hired by post-conviction counsel showed that Ms. Conley had no life-threatening injuries, that her time of death was consistent with that suggested by the hidden statements, and that she may well have died of a cocaine overdose.
Betty Jean Ramseur
Ms. Ramseur’s body was found in the crawl space of a home that had been set on fire twice. At trial, the State claimed that Chapman killed Ms. Ramseur and set the house on fire to hide the evidence. An investigation done by post-conviction counsel revealed that Hickory Police Department Detective Dennis Rhoney concealed evidence that a witness picked another suspect out of a lineup, that another person claimed responsibility for the killing, that the first fire was accidentally set by a vagrant, and that the second fire occurred after the body was removed from the home. Rhoney also failed to turn over information that pointed to other suspects. There was no physical evidence linking Chapman to Ramseur’s murder.
Robert Adams and Thomas Portwood
Despite the efforts of police and prosecutors to conceal the truth, Chapman might have been spared 14 years on death row had he been represented by competent counsel. Chapman was represented by Robert Adams and Thomas Portwood, both of whom struggled with alcohol abuse. The attorneys failed to hire an investigator to look into the Conley killing, and the investigator they hired for the Ramseur killing appears to have done nothing more than administer a lie detector test (which Chapman passed), visit the crime scene, and make one unsuccessful attempt to speak with a witness. There were multiple hints in the prosecutor and court files that Ms. Conley had been seen alive after Mr. Chapman was supposed to have killed her, but counsel either failed to look at the files or did not examine them closely.
Adams has been sanctioned by the bar multiple times and Portwood died of alcohol-related illness. Portwood represented several other men whose trials resulted in death sentences, including Ronald Frye, who was executed in 2001.
Edited 04.02.08 to add – All charges have been dropped and Glen Chapman has been released from death row. See here.