In June 1984, 26-year-old Donald Ball was shot and killed while filling up his car at a gas station in St. Louis, Missouri, the same location where Ball had been shot at a year earlier by a rival drug dealer.
A month later, two witnesses came forward and identified Darryl Burton as the shooter, although Burton had no known connection to the drug dealer.
One witness, Eddie Walker, claimed to be standing in the parking lot at the time of the shooting and saw Burton shoot the victim.
The second witness, Claude Simmons, told police he was in the gas station store at the time of the shooting and he also saw Burton chasing the victim with a gun.
Burton was convicted of capital murder by a jury in March 1985, and was sentenced to life in prison.
Five months after the conviction, Simmons recanted his testimony, and said that he had perjured himself and made a deal with the prosecution in exchange for his testimony, and received lenient treatment in an unrelated case.
Still, appeals and federal habeas corpus petitions failed. Then, in 2000, Burton enlisted the support of Centurion Ministries, a New-Jersey based non-profit that investigates wrongful convictions, which underwrote a reinvestigation of the case.
Walker had died in 1996, but numerous people signed affidavits stating that he was a notorious liar and had bad eyesight, and one man said that he had been drinking with Walker in the parking lot that evening and there was no way Walker could have seen the shooter.
The reinvestigation also discovered that Simmons had lied about his extensive criminal record at trial, and that the prosecution had concealed one of two deals they reached with Simmons to secure his testimony.
Based on this information, a state petition for a writ habeas corpus was filed. It was granted in August 2008; the prosecution dismissed the charges and Burton was released.
- Stephanie Denzel