Donald Kelly

Early on the morning of November 26, 1989, Michelle Patterson called police to report that a man had kicked in the door of her apartment in Cambria County, Pennsylvania and fatally shot her boyfriend, 20-year-old Richard Dowey, in the head with a shotgun, then fled.

Patterson said she was in bed with Dowey at the time of the shooting, and told police that the gunman was her former boyfriend, 26-year-old Donald Kelly, who was upset that she had begun a relationship with Dowey.

Kelly was arrested hours later at his home in Barnesboro and charged with murder. He went on trial in Cambria County Common Pleas Court in 1990. Patterson testified that the apartment was secured from the inside with a one inch by two inch wooden board that was slid between C-shaped barn door handles on both sides of the door molding.

Patterson said Kelly burst into the bedroom after kicking the door so hard that the board broke, fired once with the shotgun and fled after dropping the weapon. There were no fingerprints on the gun, but Patterson said Kelly wore gloves.

Prosecutors presented the board, which was broken in one place, and also presented a photograph showing a footprint on the door to the apartment building. The prosecution contended the footprint was left by Kelly.

The defense presented no evidence and argued there was no physical evidence that linked Kelly to the shooting. No gloves were ever recovered.

Kelly was convicted by a jury in 1990 and sentenced to life in prison.

Attorney Thomas Crawford, who did not defend Kelly at trial, was hired to handle Kelly’s appeal. While researching the case, Crawford learned from another client that one of the jurors had falsely claimed during jury selection that he had not been convicted of a crime. The Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed Kelly’s conviction because convicted felons were barred from serving on juries.

In 1993, Kelly went on trial a second time, represented by Crawford, who brought out, for the first time, that Patterson had no blood on her body or clothes even though there was blood on the sheets and she said she was lying next to Dowey when he was shot.

Crawford also showed that the photograph of the shoeprint depicted a shoe that was three sizes larger than Kelly’s shoe size.

Moreover, Crawford was allowed to recreate the scene at the apartment to show what likely would have happened when the door was kicked in. The jury and judge went to the home where the shooting occurred and a similar board was slid through the C-shaped handles. When the door was kicked in, the board broke in two places—at the locations of the handles—not in one place.

On May 4, 1993, the jury acquitted Kelly and he was released.

– Maurice Possley

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State:Pennsylvania
County:Cambria
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1989
Convicted:1990
Exonerated:1993
Sentence:Life
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age:26
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No