In August, 1992, the bodies of Tenene Yvette Conley and Betty Jean Ramseur – both suspected prostitutes – were found within a week of each other in two abandoned houses in Hickory, North Carolina. Glen Edward Chapman’s sperm was found in Conley’s body. He was arrested and charged with the murders of both women. Chapman insisted he was innocent, though he admitted to smoking crack with both women, and to having consensual sex with Conley. Aside from the sperm, there was no physical evidence linking Chapman to the crimes.
Chapman’s trial began on October 31, 1994. The prosecutor argued that Chapman was the last person seen with Conley before her body was found. The house where Ramseur’s body was found had been set on fire; the prosecutor claimed that Chapman had attempted to burn the house down to hide the evidence of the murder. Two witnesses testified that Chapman confessed to them that he had committed the murders, but later recanted, claiming they were afraid of the police and the prosecutors.
Chapman’s attorneys, both alcoholics, put little effort into investigating the case. On November 10, 1994, Chapman was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder, and on November 16, he was sentenced to death.
In post-conviction investigation, appellate lawyers found evidence that in both cases the prosecution had withheld a great deal of exculpatory evidence. In the Ramseur case, this evidence included a credible confession by another person, and witness testimony identifying another man as the culprit in a photo lineup. The claim that Chapman had burned down the house where Ramseur’s body was found was contradicted by evidence that the fire was set after the body had been removed. In the Conley case, witnesses said they saw the victim days after prosecutors said she had been killed, in the company of a man who had a record of violence towards her. Also, forensic evidence indicated that Conley might not have been murdered at all, but instead had died of a cocaine overdose.
Following six post-conviction hearings over the course of four years, on November 6, 2007, a Superior Court Judge issued a 186-page order granting Chapman a new trial because the state withheld exculpatory evidence and because his defense attorneys were ineffective. The district attorney dismissed charges, and Chapman was released from prison on April 2, 2008.
– Alexandra Gross