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Winfred J. Peterson

Winfred J. Peterson and his co-defendant, Tyrone James, were both sentenced to life in prison for the September 1, 1981 murder of Lawrence “Billy” Leslie, owner of the convenience store American Superette in Florence, South Carolina. Peterson and James were also convicted of conspiracy to commit armed robbery and attempted armed robbery.

Arrested on the basis of eyewitness testimony, Peterson and James, both 24-year-old black men, were convicted of this robbery-murder primarily on the strength of the testimony of a police officer, who stated that he had overheard them making incriminating statements about the crime while he was transporting them after their arrests.

Two other men, Eddie Myers Johnson and Leroy Johnson, were also arrested for the robbery-murder. While they were awaiting trial, a witness who had been hesitant to come forward told authorities that the men she had seen running away from the grocery store after the robbery were not those in custody. A new investigation resulted in the arrest of four men, one of whom, Bernard Crawford, signed an affidavit admitting to the robbery and murder of Leslie. He also identified the location of the gun used to commit the crime.

On August 23, 1982, taking into account the new evidence, the court ordered a new trial for James and Peterson. James was released from jail on his own recognizance and on September 23, 1982, the Florence County grand jury dropped the charges against both Peterson and James. Peterson remained in custody because he pleaded guilty to an unrelated crime of breaking and entering and received a concurrent sentence of 15 years in prison.

– Yuliya Balabon and Dolores Kennedy

State:SC
County:Florence
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Reported Crime Date:1981
Convicted:1982
Exonerated:1982
Sentence:Life
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:24
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID