Why Jerry Conner Did Not Seek Clemency Today
Ten days from his scheduled execution, Jerry Wayne Conner is in the same position he was in almost two months ago when he first asked the State to consent to DNA testing. Attorneys for Mr. Conner did not participate in today’s clemency hearing before Governor Easley, because they were unable to adequately represent Mr. Conner before the Governor given the questions still existing about his guilt. Mr. Conner has presented both the courts and the governor with the means to answer these questions—a new DNA test that would conclusively answer these questions. Until answers are available, participation in the clemency process would not be constructive.
REQUEST FOR DNA TESTING
A fundamental question must be asked before Mr. Conner’s May 12 execution date: what is the harm in conducting a DNA test that can conclusively determine whether the State correctly identified Mr. Conner as the person who raped Linda Rogers? If the State gets this wrong, the harm to Jerry Conner and to the citizens of the State of
At Jerry Conner’s 1991 trial for armed robbery, the murder of Minh Rogers and the rape and murder of Linda Rogers, the State’s prosecution theory was simple: these acts were committed by a single person, Jerry Wayne Conner. Unfortunately for the State, it had to pursue this theory without use of the most unassailable of evidence—a DNA test linking Mr. Conner to the crimes. Because the crimes included a sexual assault, biological evidence was available. At the State’s request, the evidence was tested, but the results were inconclusive. Left without the most probative evidence, the State was forced to rely on Jerry Conner’s statements to law enforcement—statements replete with inconsistencies and other indicia of its unreliability.
DNA testing methods have evolved a great deal since the original tests in Mr. Conner’s case were conducted more than 15 years ago. Using modern testing methods we can determine conclusively whether or not Jerry Conner is the source of the semen sample found at the crime scene. According to
Mr. Conner’s interest in a DNA test is not a newborn reaction to the scheduling of a May 12 execution date. The State first requested that the FBI test the biological evidence prior to Mr. Conner’s trial in 1991. That test proved inconclusive. Mr. Conner asked for a new test on
The other evidence in the case is unreliable. Although Mr. Conner “confessed” his involvement in these crimes at the time of his arrest, his statements to the police were taken under the threat of the death penalty and were marred by internal inconsistencies. Although many find it difficult to imagine how someone could admit to a crime they did not commit, the Innocence Project reports that false confessions have been present in more than 1 in 4 DNA exonerations that have occurred across the country.
Dr. Solomon Fulero, a professor of law and psychology, has reviewed Mr. Conner’s statements to law enforcement as well as the trial testimony of the interrogating officers, and has concluded that there are profound and disturbing questions about the reliability of Mr. Conner’s statements. Dr. Fulero has testified numerous times as an expert in the psychology of interrogations and confession and whose work on the relation
Even the law enforcement officers who questioned Mr. Conner following his arrest testified at his trial that they had questions about the veracity of Mr. Conner’s statements. Deputy Sheriff Stallings testified that it was difficult to believe many of the details included in Mr. Conner’s confession and SBI Agent McCloud testified that Mr. Conner was uncertain of many of the details surrounding the crime. Although Mr. Conner’s trial lawyers believed the statements were unreliable, they never retained expert assistance to assist them in arguing their unreliability to the jury, and because science had not evolved to the degree where a conclusive DNA test could be done, Mr. Conner’s trial attorneys were forced to pursue unorthodox methods in their attempt to help Mr. Conner avoid a death penalty. Accordingly, they made a strategic decision to admit Mr. Conner’s guilt of the murders and beg the jury for a life sentence.
The State also introduced at trial evidence of a bloody
The State also relied on evidence of witnesses who identified Mr. Conner as the man they saw outside the store at the scene of the crime who identified himself as a DEA or SBI agent and who carried a
Other statements gathered by police following the murders, but withheld from the jury at trial, further call into question Conner’s identification by witnesses at the scene of the crime. Moreover, some of the evidence gathered by police, point in the direction of a third party who may have committed these murders. For example, on August 20, 1990, Jacqueline Boone gave two statements to law enforcement officials. In her first statement, Ms. Boone stated, in pertinent part, the following:
Boone stated that on Saturday night,
Boone stated that
Boone stated that the subject M.L. Rogers was talking and walking with was a white male, possibly twenty-two (22) to twenty-three (23) years of age with dirty blond hair, approximately collar length. Boone stated that this subject was of a slim build and appeared to be 5’8” inches tall. . . .
(Statement of Jacqueline Boone, Exhibit 2 to Mr. Conner’s Reply to the State’s Answer to his Second Motion for Appropriate Relief).
This first statement by Boone indicates that one of the victims was seen in unusual circumstances with a young white male outside the store, at a time when the store normally closes. The description provided by Boone does not fit the defendant. According to Boone’s second statement to police, the Rogers’ store “usually closed 9-9:30 p.m.” She recognized the victims’ cars in the parking lot. She was “certain that the person
The State’s evidence of guilt is flawed in important respects. The confession by this borderline mentally-retarded individual is unreliable. Further, the identification of Conner at the scene by the State’s witnesses is impeached by other witness statements not introduced at trial.
The State’s theory of guilt has always been that one person, Jerry Conner, raped Linda Rogers and
In contrast to its present position, the State has demonstrated confidence in the relevance and probative value of a DNA test since prior to Mr. Conner’s 1990 conviction when the State first sent a biological sample to the FBI for DNA testing. Mr. Conner is simply requesting now what the State thought to be prudent and necessary, but was ultimately unavailable at that time: scientifically validated testing of biological evidence that can reliably identify the contributor of the semen found in Linda Rogers. The State has identified no harm to its interests by allowing such a test; contrariwise, if Jerry Conner is innocent, the harm by foregoing the DNA testing is incalculable.
Along with claims challenging his convictions, Mr. Conner has litigated claims challenging the constitutionality of his death sentence—specifically, questions raised by the inclusion of a biased juror, Helene Knight, serving on his 1995 re-sentencing jury. As News Editor of the local newspaper, Ms. Knight had cultivated a close relation
In 1991, Helene Knight worked for the Gates County Index, and was assigned to cover Mr. Conner’s case. Knight attended every stage of the 1991 trial. When Mr. Conner’s case returned to court in 1995, Knight was called for jury duty. Knight was selected as one of the jurors who would decide whether Mr. Conner lived or died. When asked whether
Juror Knight had a close relation
There is little reason to have confidence that Mr. Conner’s path through the capital litigation process has been fair. His early request for DNA testing during post-conviction was ignored by the courts; every court, both state and federal, rejected his efforts to demonstrate unfairness in his case in an evidentiary hearing; the reliability of his statements to law enforcement are highly suspect; and despite scientific advances that could make it possible, there has never been a DNA test conclusively linking Mr. Conner to the crime. With each measure of unfairness, the strength of Mr. Conner’s conviction dimini
Attorneys for Jerry Wayne Conner