On the night of June 7, 1979, 24-year-old Michael Linder was speeding on his motorcycle and did not stop when Highway Patrol Trooper Willie E. Peeples turned on his siren and followed him. Linder was driving with an expired license and led 28-year-old Peeples on a lengthy chase through Colleton County, South Carolina. The chase ended with Linder shooting and killing Peeples.
At Linder’s trial, his attorneys argued that Linder had shot Peeples in self-defense. They claimed that Peeples had used his car to run Linder off his motorcycle and had then fired at Linder, leading Linder to shoot the fatal shots back at Peeples. Prosecutors introduced as evidence six spent rounds of ammunition, which had been found in Peeples’s revolver. The prosecution claimed that the rounds had been fired from Linder’s gun and then placed in Peeples’s revolver to create the misconception that Linder had shot Peeples in self-defense. On November 10, 1979, Circuit Court C. Judge Victor Pyle Jr. sentenced Linder to death.
In May 1981, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed Linder’s conviction and granted him a new trial because of flawed jury instructions. The court found error in Judge Pyle’s refusal to instruct the jury that Linder could be found guilty of manslaughter, as well as the Judge’s failure to poll the jurors on the death sentence.
Linder’s second trial took place in November 1981. For this trial, Linder’s defense attorney, David I. Bruck, had obtained ballistics results from the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division. In these tests, the spent rounds had been analyzed and the State Law Enforcement Division had concluded that the six shots had been fired from Peeples’s gun, not Linder’s gun. This evidence had not been available to Linder or his attorney at the first trial.
With the new ballistics evidence at the second trial to support Linder’s claim of self-defense, Linder was acquitted on November 9, 1981.
– Meghan Barrett Cousino
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.