In June 1986, Carl Martinsdale was shot and killed outside his Richmond, Virginia home after a dispute with several men. Martinsdale’s stepson, who witnessed the shooting, provided a description of the shooter, and selected Russell Leroy Gray’s photo from the mug book. Police conducted a minimal investigation, and ignored information indicating that another man, Michael Harvey, might have been the shooter. Gray was convicted of murder by a jury in January 1987 and sentenced to 52 years.
Gray’s attorney was convinced that he was innocent, and continued his investigation after the conviction. Also after the conviction, Michael Harvey confessed to the police that he had shot Martinsdale in the dispute, acting, he claimed, in self-defense – but the confession was ignored. Eventually Gray’s attorney learned about Harvey’s confession, and located two additional witnesses who confirmed that Harvey had shot the victim. After unsuccessfully petitioning in state court for a new trial, Gray’s lawyer convinced the prosecutor in charge of the case that the wrong man had been convicted, and together they persuaded the parole board to recommend a pardon. Gray was pardoned by the governor of Virginia in April 1990, one week after Harvey pled guilty to manslaughter for killing Carl Martinsdale, and was sentenced to eight years in prison.
- Stephanie Denzel