On March 25, 1982, Michael Knight was stabbed to death outside Meri’s Malibu Club, a bar in Port Aransas, a city on Padre Island just northeast of Corpus Christi, Texas.
Hicks Edward Elliff, Jr., a member of the Bandidos Motorcycle Club, was charged with the murder, as were two other men, Charles Elliott and William Klasing.
Elliff was tried in May 1982 and was convicted and sentenced to 55 years in prison. Klasing was tried in September 1982 and was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, a sentence that was enhanced by prior convictions. Elliott pleaded guilty to attempted murder in October 1982.
In 2007, 25 years after he was convicted, Elliff's conviction was set aside because the Nueces County District Attorney’s office had failed to turn over exculpatory evidence to the defense.
At an evidentiary hearing before District Judge Sandra L. Watts, Ronald Browning testified that on the night of the murder, he gave police a written statement and later testified before the grand jury that he was with Elliff at the bar and that Elliff was not involved in the murder.
Because of his grand jury testimony, Browning was charged with perjury.
The perjury charge was quashed three days before Elliff's trial. Browning said the prosecution told him to come to Elliff's trial, but then he was sent away and did not testify.
The district attorney at the time, Bill May, had a “closed file” discovery policy and only made oral disclosures of information to defense attorneys. He told Elliff’s attorney that he had no exculpatory evidence. May did not disclose Browning’s grand jury testimony, or that Browning had been charged with perjury, or that the charge had been quashed.
Other evidence presented at the hearing in 2007 involved another witness to the murder, Alex Porter, who was reluctant to get involved because he was scared of retaliation. Porter met with the district attorney more than once and spoke with the district attorney three or four times on the telephone prior to Elliff’s trial.
Porter gave a written statement that he was in the bar when a fight broke out between the victim, Michael Knight, and Kurt Dinger. Porter said he pushed Knight outside and tried to convince him to leave. Porter testified at Klasing’s trial that he saw Dinger with a knife, but did not see the stabbing. Porter's statement was never disclosed to the defense.
At Klasing’s trial, Dinger testified as a defense witness and said that he—not Klasing—had stabbed Knight. After Klasing was convicted, Dinger was charged with perjury, a charge that was later dismissed.
Years later, while in prison, Elliff met Porter and Porter told him about the statement he had made to the prosecution, and that Dinger had admitted stabbing Knight. This new information was the basis for Elliff’s motion for a new trial.
Dinger was called as a witness at Elliff’s evidentiary hearing but refused to testify, asserting his 5th Amendment protection against self-incrimination.
Judge Watts ruled that the statements of Browning and Porter were exculpatory and should have been disclosed to Elliff’s attorney. Accordingly, he ordered a new trial.
The order granting a new trial ruling was upheld by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on May 9, 2007. On August 7, 2007, the charges were dismissed and he was released from prison. Elliff attempted to obtain compensation for his years in prison, but his request was denied. Dinger died shortly after Judge Watts’ ruling.
– Maurice Possley
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.