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Charles Smith

Other Indiana Exonerations
On December 10, 1982, two masked men attempted to rob two women in the parking lot of the Elegant Farmer restaurant in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

A struggle ensued and one of the women, 20-year-old Carmen Zink, was fatally shot in the head.

On January 5, police arrested three men in connection with the murder: Phillip “Eggie” Lee, Briddie Johnson, and 29-year-old Charles Smith.

Lee claimed that he was the getaway driver on the day of the murders, and that Smith had killed Zink.  In exchange for testifying against Smith, all charges against Lee were dropped, though this was not announced at the time.  The charge against Johnson, who was Lee's brother-in-law, was reduced to armed robbery.

In September 1983, Smith went to trial in Allen County Circuit Court on a charge of capital murder.  The only evidence linking him to the crime was Lee’s testimony.

Physical evidence from the scene of the crime, including Zink’s bloody clothes, had been either lost or destroyed by the prosecution prior to the trial. Smith’s attorney proved utterly incompetent at trial.  He failed to impeach Lee’s testimony, despite contradictions in his story and evidence that he was framing Smith in order to protect himself and Johnson.

Smith claimed to have been at a pool hall on the night of the murder, but his attorney did not call any alibi witnesses to substantiate this claim.  The defense attorney contacted the owner of the pool hall the day before the tria began, but then entered his name wrong on a pretrial notice, and as a result, the judge would not allow the pool hall owner to testify at trial.

Smith, who was deemed a “habitual offender,” was convicted on September 21, 1983, and sentenced to death.
Smith appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court, but the appeal was denied on May 30, 1985.  On March 22, 1986, Smith was granted a stay of execution when a new team of lawyers argued that the incompetence of his original lawyer prevented a fair trial. On December 13, 1989, the Indiana Supreme Court overturned his conviction based on ineffective assistance of counsel and ordered a new trial. 
At Smith’s second trial, in 1991, the defense presented testimony from an alibi witness, as well as witnesses who testified that Lee had admitted to intentionally framing Smith.   Smith was acquitted May 9, 1991, and was released immediately from prison.
- Alexandra Gross

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Posting Date:  Before June 2012
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1982
Age at the date of reported crime:29
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No