Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Cornell Avery Estes


In 1978, fifteen-year-old Cornell Avery Estes was a resident of the Maryland State Board of Child Care Home in Baltimore, Maryland, a home for youths who cannot live with their families.
 
No information is available about why or how Cornell Estes came to be placed at the Home or how long he was resident there before the events leading to his conviction. What is known is that on December 8, 1978, Estes left the Home without authorization. His location and activities for the next few days are largely unknown. However, on December 11, Estes and a 13-year-old companion were taken into custody by the Baltimore County Police. They were suspected of involvement in the murder of Donna Middleton Turner, a Social Security Administration employee who had been mugged and stabbed on her way home from work on December 8th. The boys were interrogated by the police. According to newspaper accounts, the interrogations were conducted without benefit of legal counsel or other adult supervision. The younger boy implicated Estes in the murder. Because the juvenile records were sealed, nothing is known about the identity or fate of Estes' accuser. However, based largely on his accusations, Estes was charged and tried for the murder.
 
After a trial in the Criminal Court, Estes was convicted of felony murder on April 20, 1979. While some published sources reported the imposition of a life term in this case, the most official records available indicate that the court sentenced Estes to a 20-year prison term. For reasons not apparent in the record, no appeal was filed regarding the conviction. Rather, Estes was transferred to the state penitentiary where he immediately began serving his sentence.
 
Estes had served a little less than one year of his sentence when Dwayne T. Mayers confessed to killing Donna Middleton Turner, clearing the way for Estes’s release from prison. Within a matter of weeks, on March 21, 1980, his release became a reality. He had been incarcerated for a total of fifteen months and three days. Unfortunately, once freed, Estes could not remain on the right side of the law for very long. On September 7, 1981, he was arrested and charged with an unrelated property crime. Estes pleaded guilty to breaking and entering on April 27, 1982, and received a sentence of three years.
 
Throughout his troubles with the law, or at least since being cleared on the murder charge, Estes had been represented by F. Duncan Cornell, an attorney apparently retained by the Maryland State Board of Child Care Home. Mr. Cornell petitioned Maryland Governor Harry Hughes to pardon Estes on the murder charge, and pressed the negotiations toward that end with both the Governor’s office and the office of the Attorney General. Although he acknowledged that Estes’ return to jail had put him in an awkward position during the pardon negotiations (“It sort of pricked the wind in my balloon a little bit”), Mr. Cornell was not deterred. “That really isn't the point, though. The point is the state has a responsibility to recognize that it imprisoned someone wrongfully.” On September 23, 1983, Governor Hughes pardoned Estes on the Donna Turner murder charges noting that the defendant “has been conclusively shown to have been convicted in error of those criminal offenses.”
 
With the Governor's pardon in hand, Mr. Cornell petitioned the Maryland Board of Public Works (BPW) on behalf of Cornell Estes seeking compensation for the time he had spent wrongfully incarcerated. Specifically, the petition sought an award of $50.00 per day for each of the 453 days of Estes’ confinement. If granted, the award would have been a total of $22,650.00. However, the BPW declined to compensate Estes as requested. Rather than covering the entire period of his confinement, it chose to address only the 335 days Estes had served of the 20-year sentence before the real killer of Ms. Turner confessed and Estes was released. The 118 days he spent in jail awaiting trial were excluded from the calculations. Accordingly, the total amount awarded came to $16,500.00, which was apparently paid directly to Estes.
 
- Urszu la Pakentreger-Adamska and Reginald E. Jones
State:MD
County:Baltimore
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Reported Crime Date:1979
Convicted:1979
Exonerated:1983
Sentence:20 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:15
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation