Shortly before 3 a.m. on May 16, 1994, Deandre Shay Williams and Robert Ray Johnson, Jr., stopped at a Texaco gas station on Northwest Highway in Dallas, Texas, so that Williams, who was in the passenger seat, could talk to a woman who was walking on the sidewalk.
As they were sitting in the car, a black male wearing dark shorts, a white tank top and a floppy hat walked along the driver’s side, reached in, shot both men with a nine-millimeter pistol and fled to a white Cadillac which drove away. Williams was killed and Johnson was severely injured, but survived.
Marcus Thurman was standing in line to buy gas at the station when he heard six or seven gunshots. He saw a black male running with a gun in his right hand within 20 feet of him. He said he saw the gunman’s face as he went by and saw him go into some bushes near the station. Fifteen to 20 seconds later, a white Cadillac drove up with its lights off and the man emerged from the bushes and got into the car.
Thurman said he got into his car and followed the Cadillac while calling 9-1-1 and a description was broadcast over police radio. Thurman said the car made a u-turn in front of a car dealership and the gunman emerged and walk away. An off-duty police officer working at the car dealership heard the radio broadcast and called in that he saw a man fitting the description walking by the dealership.
Police were dispatched to the area and found 19-year-old Richard Miles standing about a block and a half from the dealership. Miles was wearing a floppy hat, a white tank top and blue “jams,” trousers that reach down between the knees and ankles. They put him into the back of their squad car and drove to the scene of the shooting where Thurman saw him and said Miles was the gunman. Miles was then removed from the car in handcuffs so that a gunshot-residue hand washing could be performed.
Miles was taken to a police station where a photograph was taken and put into a photo-spread—although he was the only member of the photo-spread wearing a white tank top. Thurman again identified him as the gunman.
Later that morning, several more witnesses were shown the photo-spread, but none could identify Miles. Five of the witnesses said the gunman was dark-skinned and more than six feet tall. Johnson, shown the photo-spread in the hospital, also was unable to identify Miles.
Miles, a light-skinned black man standing 5 feet, 9 inches tall, denied being involved in the shooting and provided names and telephone numbers of friends. Police called them and they confirmed Miles’s account of his evening.
Miles was charged with murder and attempted murder. In August 1995, he went on trial in Dallas County District Court.
The prosecution relied primarily on Thurman, who identified Miles in the courtroom. Further, Vicki Hall, a trace evidence analyst with the Southwest Institute of Forensic Sciences testified that she found elevated levels of gunshot residue on the palm of Miles’s right hand.
A defense witness said he was with Miles watching television until about 2 a.m. and then gave him a ride home, stopping to buy cigarettes along the way. He was dropped off near the car dealership so Miles could walk to the residence where he was staying. Another witness said that Miles called him about 2 a.m. and asked him to unlock his front door so Miles could come in and stay the night.
Miles testified on his own behalf and denied the shooting. He said he was left-handed, never carried a gun and had never shot a gun. He said he handled matches—a source of chemicals that mimic gunshot resident—because he smoked. He said that after he was dropped off, he walked past the car dealership to find a pay telephone to wake the friend at whose residence he was staying to ask him to unlock the door so that he could get in. He said that after he hung up the phone and began to walk to the friend’s residence, he was arrested.
During closing argument, the prosecution relied on Thurman’s identification and the gunshot residue evidence, and attacked Miles’s alibi as concocted. The prosecution told the jury that there were “no other suspects.”
Miles was convicted and sentenced to 40 years on the murder count and 20 years on the attempted murder count.
His appeal was denied on July 2, 1997.
In 2007, after Miles enlisted the help of Centurion Ministries, a Princeton, New Jersey-based organization that investigates wrongful convictions, a Freedom of Information Act request was filed with the Dallas Police Department. Among the documents released were two police reports that had never been disclosed to Miles’s defense attorney.
One report documented an anonymous telephone call made to police a year after the shooting, but three months prior to Miles’s trial. A woman said that her ex-boyfriend, Keith Richard, told her he shot two men near a Texaco gas station using a nine-millimeter pistol and that police had arrested the wrong person.
The other report said that William Garland told police that Williams’ brother told him that “a dude by the name of Deuce” had been the gunman.
James McCloskey, founder of Centurion Ministries, interviewed Keith Richard in 2009. Richard, a dark-skinned black man standing approximately 6 feet, 6 inches tall, said he was in the area of the shooting, but departed just before it happened.
McCloskey also prepared a timeline and a map based on Miles’s testimony of his activities that night as well as police and witness accounts. The document showed that Miles was about 12 minutes behind the gunman seen leaving from the scene of the shooting.
An expert on gunshot residue retained by Miles’s attorney provided an affidavit stating that the prosecution expert at trial overstated the significance of the tests on Miles and that the residue detected was not proof that he had fired a gun.
A petition for a state writ of habeas corpus was filed on Miles’s behalf on September 18, 2009. On October 6, 2009, the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office agreed that the two police reports had not been turned over to the defense, that they were exculpatory, and the prosecution would not oppose the granting of the petition.
State District Judge Andy Chatham ruled that the petition should be granted and ordered Miles, 34, released from prison on bond on October 12, 2009.
On January 6, 2010, Thurman recanted his in-court identification of Miles, saying that after he told the trial prosecutor he could not identify Miles, the prosecutor showed him where Miles would be seated and he then picked Miles out in front of the jury.
On February 4, 2010, the habeas court adopted findings, agreed to by the defense and by the prosecution, setting aside Miles’s conviction.
On July 27, 2010, Vicki Hall, the prosecution’s gunshot residue analyst at Miles’s trial, provided an affidavit saying she would testify differently than she did at the trial—that the residue level she found would be reported as “negative” for gunshot residue.
On August 29, 2010, Miles took and passed a polygraph examination.
On October 8, 2010, an investigator in the Dallas County District Attorney’s office provided an affidavit saying that he had identified the source of a previously unidentified fingerprint found on the victims’ car. The print was in a spot on the car that was consistent with someone putting one hand down while shooting into the car with the other hand.
The man who was the source of the fingerprint was interviewed by police and said that he lived near the Texaco station in the 1990’s, that he frequented a nightclub next to the Texaco station and that he owned a white Cadillac. That man was given a polygraph test and his answers to questions about the crime were judged deceptive.
On February 15, 2012, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the lower court ruling and found Miles “actually innocent.”
As of 2012, Miles had received $1,233,333 in state compensation.
– Maurice Possley