At approximately 2:00 a.m. on June 28, 1984, Alma Hall was reported missing from her post at LOVE’s convenience store in Clinton, Oklahoma. A week later, police found her decomposing body in a grove of trees in Wheeler, Texas, nearly 150 miles west of Clinton.
Police at first focused on a suspect with a history of abductions and sexual assaults, but then received a report that blood had been found in one of the rooms at a hotel next door to the convenience store. On the night of the murders, the room was occupied by Adolph Munson. Munson, who was serving time for a double homicide committed in 1965, had escaped from his work-release program and stopped in Clinton for the night on his way to California. A search of his hotel room produced a .22 caliber slug, several blood-soaked towels, and a seashell earring that supposedly belonged to Hall.
In August 1984, police found Munson in California and extradited him to Oklahoma, where he was charged with kidnapping, robbery, and murder. At trial, prosecutors said that Munson had robbed the convenience store, kidnapped Hall, and then killed her in the hotel room. One witness testified that she heard screams from Munson’s room at around 2:30 a.m., and another said he had seen an African-American man take a gun from his car in the motel parking lot on the night of the murder (Munson is African-American). A jailhouse informant testified that Munson had admitted to the crime while in prison.
The only forensic evidence was presented by Dr. Ralph Erdmann, the pathologist who performed the autopsy. Though he had previously stated that the entry wound on Hall’s body was too large to have been caused by a .22, at trial he testified that the bullet found in Munson’s room matched the fatal wound. Dr. Erdmann was later banned from practicing medicine in Texas because of shoddy work and a long history of faking autopsies that he did not in fact conduct, and lying in testimony.
In May 1985, Munson was convicted and sentenced to death. In March 1989, he filed a petition for post-conviction relief with the Custer County District Court, but was denied.
In 1992, attorneys from the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System took on Munson’s case, and their investigation revealed that an enormous amount of exculpatory evidence had been withheld from the defense. The state had failed to turn over hundreds of pages of police reports pertaining to other suspects in the case, and 165 photos. The police records contained statements from several witnesses who claimed to have seen two white men entering the convenience store shortly before Hall was reported missing. One of the two men was later identified as Ralph Yeary, who had worked in Wheeler, Texas, and was suspected in another abduction. Shortly after the crime occurred, police in Corpus Christi broadcast the information that they had Yeary in custody, but Clinton police never responded and Yeary was released. Investigation also revealed that prosecutors had written letters to the parole board on behalf of the jailhouse informant who testified against Munson, which was never disclosed to the defense.
Based on this new evidence, on August 11, 1993, a district court judge vacated Munson’s conviction and ordered a new trial. Munson was acquitted at his second trial on April 5, 1995, but remains in prison serving out his prior sentence.
- Alexandra Gross