In 1985, Daniel McNair called 911 after his wife, Sandra Carr, passed out and fell to the floor in their home in Lancaster, South Carolina.
A pathologist conducted an autopsy and concluded that Carr, who had facial injuries, had died after being struck in the head. Another resident of the home told police that Carr and McNair had been arguing before Carr was found on the floor.
McNair was charged with murder and went on trial in 1986 in Lancaster County Circuit Court. Based on the autopsy findings, the pathologist testified that Carr had been beaten. McNair’s call to 911 was played for the jury during which he was vague about what had happened. The defense contended that McNair was vague because his wife was on supervised release for a cocaine conviction and he feared she would be jailed again for drug use.
The jury convicted McNair and he was sentenced to life in prison.
In 1997, McNair reached out to Columbia, South Carolina attorney Tara Shurling because she had provided assistance to a fellow inmate of McNair. Shurling sent the autopsy results to three different pathologists, all of whom concluded that Carr had died when her brain began to bleed and caused a piece of brain tissue to tear.
The pathologists agreed independently that hemorrhage caused Carr to become unconscious and she collapsed on the floor face first. The hemorrhage was in the deep center of Carr’s brain and the rest of Carr’s brain was not damaged—as it would have been had she been beaten.
In 1999, the reports of the independent pathologists were submitted to prosecutors. Dr. Sandra Conradi, the pathologist whose testimony had convicted McNair, examined the findings and revised her original opinion to say that the facial injuries could have been the result of a fall due to a brain hemorrhage instead of a beating.
“The manner of death of Sandra Carr is best designated as undetermined,” Conradi said in an affidavit. “Head trauma from an assault could not be ruled out as a cause or contributing factor in Carr’s death.”
Shurling filed a motion for a new trial based on the medical evidence and on June 30, 2000, a judge granted the motion. The prosecution dismissed the charges immediately and McNair was released. McNair later filed a fedeal civil rights lawsuit seeking damages, but it was dismissed.
– Maurice Possley
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.