On August 30, 1981, the partially-clad body of 21-year-old Carol Elaine Armstrong was found lying on a highway near Corsicana, Texas. She had been stabbed 48 times and raped.
Police determined that Armstrong, who lived in nearby Blooming Grove, Texas, had been last seen the night before. Her abandoned car was found parked on the side of the road about a mile west of Corsicana. Police found a hairnet on the front seat and a half-smoked marijuana cigarette in the ashtray.
The case went unsolved for more than two years. Then, Bennie Lamas contacted Corsicana Police from a prison in Tennessee, where he was serving a life sentence for an armed robbery conviction. Randolph Arledge and Paula Lucas had also been convicted of the same robbery.
Lamas told police that he and Lucas had met up with Arledge in Houston and that they had traveled through several states before being arrested in Tennessee. Lamas said that while in Louisiana, Arledge, who lived in Corsicana at the time of Armstrong’s murder, had confessed to killing Armstrong and said that he still had the knife he had used.
In November 1983, Arledge was charged with the murder. He went on trial in March 1984 in Navarro County Criminal District Court. Lamas testified that Arledge had confessed to him. Lucas also testified that Arledge had once threatened her, saying that he had killed a woman.
Prosecutors showed jurors a single-edge hunting knife that had been confiscated from Arledge when he, Lamas and Lucas were arrested in Tennessee. A pathologist attempted to link the knife to the stabbing by testifying that the size and shape of the knife was consistent with the stab wounds on the victim.
Arledge’s sister testified that he was at a party at her home on the night Armstrong was killed and slept there that night. She said he had gotten into a couple of fights during the party. Others who attended the party confirmed that Arledge had been in fights there and said that he had a knife. They testified that he left the party and did not stay overnight.
Arledge was convicted on March 27, 1984 and was sentenced to 99 years in prison.
In 1998, Arledge was granted parole on the Tennessee robbery.
In 2006, the Innocence Project in New York took on Arledge’s case and located the physical evidence. Innocence Project lawyers requested that DNA tests be performed on the evidence in the case. By agreement with the Navarro County District Attorney’s Office, physical evidence from the crime scene, including the hairnet, was subjected to DNA testing.
In 2011, DNA testing on the biological evidence and the hairnet failed to find Arledge’s DNA, but did link hair found in the hairnet to David Sims, who was a Corsicana resident at the time of Armstrong’s murder. And DNA tests on pubic hair from the victim identified a partial DNA profile consistent with Sims’ DNA profile.
Sims was then interviewed by Corsicana police. He denied involvement in Armstrong’s murder, but admitted that he worked part-time at a Long John Silver’s seafood restaurant at the time and that he wore hairnets for his job.
Sims had an extensive record of crimes committed after Armstrong was murdered. In April 1996, he had pled no contest to a 1985 attempted murder in Dallas in which a woman was stabbed more than 90 times. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was paroled, but was later convicted of three crimes in 1992—a burglary, a robbery and an aggravated robbery. He pled no contest to the crimes and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. He was on parole when his DNA was matched to the hairnet in the Armstrong murder.
Lamas gave a sworn statement to the Innocence Project saying that his testimony at Arledge’s trial was a lie. He said that when he, Arledge and Lucas were arrested in Tennessee, Arledge gave his gun to Lucas to hold and then told police the gun belonged to Lucas. He said he came to believe that Arledge had been having sex with Lucas, who was Lamas’s girlfriend, and that he suspected that Arledge was going to cooperate with Tennessee authorities and testify against him.
So, Lamas said he decided to seek revenge by implicating Arledge in the Armstrong murder. He said that they had discussed the murder, but only that it had occurred. “Randy did not confess to the murder or say anything that would lead me to believe that he was involved,” Lamas said in the statement.
Lamas, who was promised (and later received) favorable treatment from Tennessee authorities in return for his trial testimony, also said that prior to Arledge’s trial, he was in the same cell with Lucas and that she “agreed to testify that Randy had admitted killing the girl as well.”
Based on the DNA tests and Lamas’ recantation, lawyers for the Innocence Project filed a state petition for a writ of habeas corpus. On February 11, 2013, with the concurrence of the Navarro County prosecutors, a Texas judge recommended that Arledge’s conviction be vacated and the case dismissed, and Arledge, 58, was released on bond after nearly 30 years in prison.
On March 6, 2013, the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals upheld the judge’s recommendation that the charges against Arledge be dismissed. On May 3, by agreement of the prosecution, the case was officially dismissed. Arledge received $1,146,000 in compensation from the state of Texas plus a monthly annuity of $7,140.
– Maurice Possley