A judge in Oklahoma City on Friday dismissed murder charges against a man who was sentenced to death three times for the 1982 slaying of...
A judge in Oklahoma City on Friday dismissed murder charges against a man who was sentenced to death three times for the 1982 slaying of a woman, based largely on testimony from a police-department chemist fired in 2001 for fraud and misconduct.
Oklahoma District Court Judge Twyla Mason Gray ruled the case against Curtis McCarty, 42, was tainted by the actions of former Oklahoma City Police Department chemist Joyce Gilchrist, whose work has been called into question in other death-penalty cases.
Gray said she was dismissing the charges because Gilchrist had acted in “bad faith,” and “most likely did destroy or intentionally lose” hair that was critical evidence in McCarty’s trial for the 1982 stabbing and strangling of Pamela Kaye Willis, a policeman’s 18-year-old daughter.
Gray said that although the law required her to dismiss the murder charge, she believed McCarty bore some responsibility for the victim’s death.
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District Attorney David Prater said he also thinks McCarty was involved in the crime but said Gray had no choice but to dismiss the murder charge. He said he would not appeal the ruling: “There’s no way that he could be afforded a fair trial.”
Colin Starger, an attorney with the Innocence Project who has represented McCarty since 2003, said, “Every piece of evidence in this case … now shows Curtis McCarty’s innocence.”
Free after nearly 22 years, McCarty said Friday that he had been out for “only a few hours and I have not had time to digest” everything that occurred.
“But for the Innocence Project, Judge Gray would not have done what she did today. I don’t think she had cause to take a dig at me, but I join her in her condemnation of Gilchrist,” McCarty said.
McCarty first was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 1986. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the verdict, saying that District Attorney Robert Macy Sr. had acted deplorably during the trial and that Gilchrist had omitted key information from her forensic reports.
McCarty was convicted and sentenced to death again in 1989. That conviction was upheld on appeal, but the death sentence was reversed. A new penalty-phase trial was conducted in 1996, and McCarty was sentenced to death for the third time.
Five years later, serious questions about Gilchrist’s conduct in many cases surfaced, including that of Jeffrey Pierce. In May 2001, he was freed from prison after serving 15 years for a rape that DNA tests showed he did not commit.
Gilchrist was fired Sept. 25, 2001, after 21 years at the Oklahoma City Police Department as a chemist. Investigations began into the more than 1,400 cases that had been assigned to her.
In 23 cases, she had helped send men to death row. So far, 11 of those defendants have been executed, according to the Innocence Project.
The review of Gilchrist’s cases unearthed more problems, including her performance in McCarty’s case.
Gilchrist could not be reached Friday. A call to her attorney was not returned.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.