In September 1979, a restaurant in Garland, Texas, was robbed at gunpoint. The manager and three other people witnessed the robbery. The manager identified Stephen Lynn Russell, who had prior felony drug convictions, as the robber, picking him from a photo lineup and identifying him at trial. Russell claimed he was with his mother at the time of the robbery, applying for a bank loan. In March 1980, a jury convicted Russell of the robbery, and he was sentenced to 50 years in prison.
After Russell’s conviction, a man named Robert Wilkey confessed to the robbery. Two women who were in the getaway car also told police that Wilkey was the real culprit. In 1985, the store manager said he had originally picked Wilkey out of a photo lineup, but chose Russell after police pressured him. Wilkey confessed that same year, but could not be prosecuted because the five year statute of limitations had passed. Russell’s legal appeals failed. However, in 1990, at the urging of Russell’s attorney, the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office reviewed Wilkey’s case and discovered that one of the women in the getaway car had initially told Dallas police that Wilkey was the robber, but that information had been “inadvertently lost” when the case was transferred to Garland. The district attorney recommended that the parole board grant Russell a pardon. In April 1990, the parole board unanimously recommended a pardon, and the governor issued a full pardon shortly after. Russell later received $25,000 in compensation from the state, the maximum allowed under state law at the time.
- Stephanie Denzel