Albert Ronnie Burrell
Albert Ronnie Burrell and his co-defendant, Michael Ray Graham Jr., were wrongly convicted of a robbery and double murder of Callie and William Delton Frost in Union Parish, Louisiana in 1987.
They faced the death penalty for the crime and yet the State of Louisiana appointed them two lawyers who had no previous capital trial experience.
They were convicted despite the fact that no physical evidence linked them to the crime. Their convictions were based on three witnesses who, unbeknownst to the jury, had personal motives to testify against Mr. Burrell and Mr. Graham. One of the witnesses was Mr. Burrell's ex-wife who testified primarily to get custody of their child.
Mr. Burrell and Mr. Graham were sentenced to death and spent 13 of the 14 years they were imprisoned on death row. Mr. Burrell, who is mildly mentally retarded, came within 17 days of execution before winning a stay in 1996.
Mr. Burrell did not see his son, Charles, for 13 years, only speaking to him by phone once during that time. Mr. Burrell's mother died a few days after a judge denied one of his many appeals.
Years after the convictions, attorneys interviewed the prosecutor, Dan Grady, who signed an affidavit stating that he had recommended against prosecuting the cases because the evidence was too weak.
All three witnesses eventually recanted their trial testimonies, and Mr. Grady testified that he was pressured by the Union Parish district attorney to prosecute Mr. Burrell and Mr. Graham in order not to embarrass the recently elected sheriff.
Ultimately, the charges in the case were dismissed because the prosecutors withheld key information from the defense including the fact that their star witness, Olan Wayne Brantley, an inmate who claimed Mr. Burrell had confessed to him, had received an award in the form of his own charges being reduced before sentencing. He had also been found not guilty by reason of insanity in a previous case.
In dismissing the charges, the attorney general’s office stated, “In fact, the undersigned prosecutors would deem it a breach of ethics to proceed to trial without evidence that would make it reasonable to argue to a jury that proof beyond a reasonable doubt exists in this instance.”
Mr. Burrell was released on January 3, 2001, a few days after Mr. Graham.
Upon his release, Albert was issued a blue jean jacket several sizes too large and a $10 check for transportation. He climbed into the pickup truck of his stepsister, Estelle, and rode to her small ranch in East Texas. Albert currently lives and works in Center, Texas, and since his release has been active in the movement against the death penalty with other exonerated former death row prisoners.
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