On May 22, 1973, two gas station attendants were murdered 16 miles apart in Mobile and Baldwin Counties in Alabama. A motorist said he had witnessed two men fleeing one of the murders in a white compact car with Baldwin County plates. That same evening, 17-year-old Michael Pardue stole two cars, a pick-up truck and a VW beetle, both with Mobile County plates. When police traced the stolen vehicles to him, Pardue voluntarily went to the police station where he was interrogated for days about the two murders, with few breaks. He was severely beaten during the interrogation. Though he asked for help and two attorneys attempted to gain access to him, he was not allowed to see a lawyer. The police did not read him his Miranda rights until the very end of the interrogation, when he was ready to give the official confession. Pardue also confessed to a third murder in the area.
John Brown, a friend of Pardue’s who was with him the evening of the murders, also signed a confession to the murders, although he was illiterate. Brown and Pardue were threatened with the death penalty during their interrogations, even though Alabama did not have the death penalty at that time. Pardue’s girlfriend, who was with Pardue on the evening of the crimes, was also threatened with the death penalty, and was offered immunity if she testified against Pardue at his trial, an offer she accepted. At trial, the police presented a summary of the confession, as well as the shotgun that Pardue had said was the murder weapon. The shotgun, which had been found rusty and unfired, was cleaned up, fired, and then presented by the prosecution as the murder weapon. Pardue’s defense attorney failed to interview critical witnesses and presented little defense in the three hour trial.
The jury convicted Pardue of first-degree murder in August 1973, and he was sentenced to life in prison. His conviction was reversed in 1994 because his confession was coerced. When he was retried, the prosecution presented an audio tape of his confession, the jury again convicted him, and he was sentenced to 100 years in prison. His conviction was overturned in 1996 because it was based on the inadmissible confession, and the prosecution decided to drop the charges in August 1997 – but Pardue remained in prison because of several escape attempts. He was released on parole in 2001.
- Stephanie Denzel