On December 13, 1997, an intruder broke into the home of 82-year-old Sam Davenport and his 76-year-old wife, Lillian, in Jellico, Kentucky. They were beaten, their home was set ablaze and both died in the fire.
At about 1 a.m. on December 14, the mother of 17-year-old Larry Osborne reported to police that her son said he had heard the sound of breaking glass coming from the direction of the home hours earlier, when he and his 15-year-old friend Joe Reid were riding on a motorbike nearby.
Police determined that the intruder entered the Davenport home by breaking a window. After an autopsy showed that the Davenports died of smoke inhalation shortly after midnight on December 14, police brought in Reid for questioning. During a videotaped interrogation, Reid at first denied any knowledge of the crime, but after four hours, he changed his statement and implicated Osborne. Forty minutes of the interrogation tape was mysteriously missing from police records. Police told him afterward they would assure prosecutors that Reid had cooperated with them and Reid responded, “Is this going to get me out of all this stuff?''
Reid was taken before a grand jury, where he said that he stood outside while Osborne broke into the home, beat the couple and set the house on fire.
Osborne, who had never been in trouble with the law before, was arrested and went on trial Whitley County Circuit Court in 1999. By that time, Reid was dead—he had drowned in a swimming accident. With no physical evidence linking Osborne to the crime, the trial judge allowed prosecutors to present Reid’s grand jury testimony, over the objection of defense attorneys. Prosecutors contended that Osborne must have been involved because he could not have heard the sound of breaking glass over the noise of the motorbike. Osborne was convicted and sentenced to death on January 27, 1999. He was the youngest person on Kentucky’s Death Row.
In 2001, the Kentucky Supreme Court overturned the conviction and death sentence, ruling that the admission of the grand jury testimony had violated Osborne’s 6th Amendment right to cross-examine his accuser.
Osborne went on trial a second time in 2002. For the first time, the prosecution offered the testimony of the Davenports’ son, who said that a pair of wire-cutters found in Osborne’s home was his and that he had left them in his parents’ carport the day before they were killed. Osborne’s father, however, testified that the wire-cutters were his.
The prosecution again discounted as impossible Osborne’s claim of hearing glass breaking while on a motorbike on the road some distance from the victims’ home.
Osborne’s attorneys, Gail Robinson, James Norris, and Tim Arnold, presented the testimony of a sound engineer who conducted tests using a motorbike and breaking glass that showed it was possible for Osborne to have heard the sound. Osborne testified on his own behalf and denied any involvement in the crime.
On August 1, 2002, the jury acquitted Osborne and he was released.
– Maurice Possley