On February 14, 1975, the Terry-Town Superette market in Gary, Indiana, was robbed by two armed men. Robert Graham, the manager of a service station next-door, was shot and critically injured when he entered the market during the crime. Graham recovered but was unable to identify either of the robbers. Another witness, Leonard Hines, viewed several police lineups. He identified 33-year-old Melvin Nelson and 29-year-old Raymond Fleming as the robbers. Just 11 days prior to the crime, Nelson had been released from prison, where he had been serving a sentence for armed robbery.
In August 1975, Nelson and Fleming were tried jointly in Lake County Superior Court on charges of inflicting injury during commission of a felony. Hines identified both men in court but testified that he could be mistaken in his identification of Nelson. Nelson and Fleming were each found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. Two months earlier, Fleming had been convicted in a different robbery-shooting that took place near the Terry-Town Superette on the same day, February 14, 1975. A different accomplice, Larry Edwards, was convicted alongside Fleming in that robbery-shooting. Edwards and Fleming had each received life sentences for that crime.
At a post-conviction hearing for Nelson in 1976, Edwards testified that it had been him, and not Nelson, who participated with Fleming in the Terry-Town Superette robbery. Prosecutor Raymond Sufrana discounted the confession, saying that Edwards, as a convicted felon, lacked credibility.
In a later interview with a reporter from the Gary Post-Tribune, Edwards provided the name of a previously unidentified witness to the Terry-Town Superette robbery. Edwards told the reporter that he had recognized this witness, Lester Wilson, on the street when he fled the crime scene. Edwards said he fired one shot at Wilson but missed him. The reporter located Wilson in St. Louis. Wilson said he had seen Edwards fleeing from the crime and that Edwards had fired a shot at him. Wilson agreed to return to Indiana to testify as a witness. The newspaper also arranged for Wilson to take a polygraph test, and the results were consistent with his statements being truthful.
In May 1978, Lake County Superior Judge James Danikolas vacated Nelson’s conviction on the basis of this newly discovered evidence. On May 30, 1978, Danikolas dismissed the charge against Nelson, and Nelson was released from prison. The Lake County prosecutor’s office said it planned to file charges against Edwards for his role in the robbery-shooting.
Nelson told reporters he believed he was the victim of a vindicative Gary police officer who had been removed from his job on charges of extortion.
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.