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Gerald Sailors

Other Indiana Exonerations
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At 12:45 a.m. on June 21, 1990, Gerald Sailors, an off-duty police officer, pulled up to the police station in neighboring Roanoke, Indiana and called for help. Inside his car was 29-year-old Michael Fisher, who had been fatally shot in the chest and head.

Sailors, 46, was a police captain and 21-year-police veteran. He told investigators that although he was off-duty, he was driving Fisher around because Fisher was going to show him drug houses. At some point, Sailors said Fisher showed him a bag of marijuana seeds. Sailors said that when he told Fisher he was going to arrest him, Fisher attacked and began choking him. Sailors said that he shot Fisher in self-defense.

However, in July 1990, a Huntington County grand jury indicted Sailors on a charge of voluntary manslaughter.

Prior to trial, the prosecution sought leave to present evidence that Fisher and Sailors were involved in a homosexual relationship, and that Sailors killed Fisher to keep the relationship a secret. Judge John Surbeck barred the admission of that evidence as too prejudicial. At the same time, Judge Surbeck denied a defense motion to move the trial to another county due to publicity about the case.

Sailors went to trial in Huntington County Superior Court in March 1991. The prosecution presented testimony from medical personnel from the hospital emergency room where Sailors was treated for cuts and bruises on his face. The witnesses testified they saw no marks around Sailors’s neck, and that he did not complain of neck pain.

Huntington Police Chief Charles Crago testified that, typically, Sailors would not be involved in ongoing investigations and that he was unaware that Sailors was looking for drug houses in Roanoke. In addition, the gun that Sailors used to kill Fisher was not his service weapon, and was not registered with the Huntington police department, despite a requirement that officers register all personal weapons.

A pathologist testified that Fisher was shot through the heart and he would have stopped moving within two or three seconds—contradicting Sailors’s statement to police immediately after the shooting that he shot twice because Fisher kept attacking him.

A crime lab analyst testified that blood spatter on the interior of the car door indicated that the door had been open when Fisher was shot. This also contradicted Sailors’s statement that the car was moving when Fisher attacked him and the shots were fired.

Sailors testified that when Fisher was unable to point out any drug houses, he told Fisher he was going to return to Huntington. However, Fisher asked him to drive to a rural area south of Roanoke. While they were driving, Sailors said he asked Fisher how he was doing in his effort to stop smoking marijuana.

Sailors told the jury that Fisher pulled out a plastic bag, and said it contained enough marijuana seeds to raise a year's supply. Sailors said he told Fisher that he was going to take Fisher to jail. In response, Sailors testified, Fisher went “berserk” and threatened to kill Sailors and his family. Fisher then struck him several times on the right side of his face and started choking him. During the struggle, Sailors said Fisher pulled him over to the passenger side of the car.

Sailors testified that he was afraid he was going to lose consciousness, so he grabbed his gun and shot Fisher. He did not remember how many times he pulled the trigger. He said he drove to the Roanoke police station because that was the closest location where paramedics would be on duty.

A fellow Huntington police officer testified that he saw what appeared to be choking marks on Sailors’s neck the day after the shooting.

On March 13, 1991, the jury convicted Sailors of voluntary manslaughter. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison.

In June 1992, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial. The court ruled that the prosecutor had given an improper closing argument by saying that they were “actually the second jury to consider this matter.” The prosecutor referred to the Huntington County grand jury, saying, “These charges were not filed by a prosecutor, special or otherwise. The indictment was returned by six of your fellow citizens. You are the trial jury. The second jury to consider this matter.”

The appeals court said the prosecutor’s statements were “clearly exhortations to the jury to convict Sailors because other people thought he was guilty…It is highly inappropriate to ask a jury to convict a defendant because someone else thinks the defendant is guilty.”

On August 21, 1992, Sailors was released on bond.

Sailors went to trial a second time in July 1993. The trial was moved to Marion County Superior Court in Indianapolis after the trial court granted a defense request for a change of venue due to extensive publicity about the case.

At the second trial, the defense called two experts who did not testify at the first trial. A blood spatter expert testified that the evidence did not show that the car door was open at the time of the shooting. A police procedures expert gave a reconstruction of what had happened in the car based on the physical evidence and Sailors’s testimony, and concluded that Sailors had acted in self-defense.

On July 27, 1993, the jury acquitted Sailors.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 7/28/2017
State:Indiana
County:Huntington
Most Serious Crime:Manslaughter
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1990
Convicted:1991
Exonerated:1993
Sentence:22 years
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:46
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No