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Terry Seaton


Terry Seaton was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in New Mexico in 1973. He was exonerated six-and-a-half years later on the basis of perjured testimony and suppression of a confession by the police.
 
On the morning of May 19, 1971, William Davis was murdered in his Carlsbad, New Mexico, bakery. A few months later, James Williams, a former inmate, gave a sworn statement to the Eddy County, New Mexico, Sheriff’s Department stating that he saw 25-year-old Terry Seaton leave the bakery and that Seaton told him he had committed the murder. However, in April 1972, Ernie White of the Eddy County Police Department tape-recorded an interview with Hubert Workman, who claimed he had killed William Davis although the details were hazy and he seemed unclear as to whether or not it was simply a dream.
 
At this point, there were two suspects and two investigations—one led by the Sheriff’s Department and the other by the police department. The only agency aware of both was the district attorney’s office, led by Patrick Hanagan. Hanagan had just proclaimed that he did not believe there was sufficient evidence against Seaton when Hanagan was killed in a one-car wreck in a nearby town. It was an election year and the accident sent the agencies into a tailspin. Workman’s confession was apparently forgotten.
 
On December 20, the Sheriff’s Department issued a warrant for the arrest of Terry Seaton. At trial the following May, four witnesses testified against Terry Seaton: brothers James and Ted Williams swore they had seen him at the Davis Bakery shortly after the murder. In addition, James Williams, Jerry Burns and L.D. Bickford swore Terry Seaton had confessed to them. Seaton was convicted of first-degree murder on May 5, 1973 and sentenced to life imprisonment. His conviction was affirmed on appeal.
 
In 1976, Santa Fe attorneys Steven Farber and Robert Rothstein began to represent Seaton. Williams, Burns and Bickford all recanted their testimonies against Seaton, claiming that the Sheriff’s Department and district attorney had cut a deal with them to make false statements in return for monetary compensation and immunity from felony charges. Three years later, Farber and Rothstein received the original Hubert Workman tape interview and Ernie White report, in addition to a report on the lie detector test of James Williams, which corroborated Seaton’s alibi that he was in Roswell at the time of the murder.
 
On May 4, 1979, District Judge George Perez of Sandoval County granted Seaton a new trial on a writ of habeas corpus, saying he could “think of at least five reasons why this court has to grant the writ as prayed for by the defendant.” Seaton was released from New Mexico State Prison. “It should have happened six year ago,” Seaton told the press. “So instead of being excited, I’m kind of upset that it didn’t happen before. However, I’m really glad that this thing is no longer hanging over my head and now that it’s not, I can concentrate on my law school studies.”
 
In April 1980, Judge N. Randolph Reese dropped the charges against Seaton. In 1981, Seaton, then a law student at the University of New Mexico, filed a civil rights lawsuit and, two years later, a federal court jury awarded him $118,000 in damages from Eddy County and two employees of the Eddy County Sheriff’s Department. The state also paid Seaton’s attorneys’ fees of $217,500.
 
 – Kathleen Murphy and Dolores Kennedy
 
State:NM
County:Eddy
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Reported Crime Date:1971
Convicted:1973
Exonerated:1980
Sentence:Life
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:21
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct