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Melvin Montgomery

Other Federal Drug Exonerations
On October 25, 1994, 31-year-old Melvin Montgomery travelled by train from Los Angeles, California to Memphis, Tennessee with Sir Lancelot Barnes, the brother of his long-time friend Johnnie Barnes.

Because Montgomery and Sir Lancelot were travelling from a source city for cocaine on one-way tickets purchased at the last minute through a travel agency, a detective who was monitoring such travel flagged their trip as suspicious, and suggestive of drug courier activity.

Police in Kansas City, Missouri were notified and when the train stopped there, detectives boarded the train and went to the sleeper car where Montgomery and Barnes were traveling. Both men consented to a search and detectives discovered 996.3 grams of cocaine wrapped in two shirts in Montgomery’s traveling bag.

Montgomery was charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. He went on trial in U.S. District Court in the Western District of Missouri in March 1995.

Montgomery testified in his own defense that the cocaine and the shirts wrapped around it were not his and that he had never seen the bundle until the officers pulled it out of his bag.

At the request of the prosecution, Montgomery tried on both of the shirts for the jury to show that they fit him—but the shirts were an ill fit at best. Montgomery’s lawyer then requested that Johnnie Barnes and Sir Lancelot Barnes try on the same two shirts.

The prosecution argued that the evidence was irrelevant and highly prejudicial because it was known that the Barnes brothers intended to assert their Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination and refuse to testify.

Montgomery’s lawyer replied that the prosecution had made the clothing an issue by having Montgomery try them on and that the Fifth Amendment only protects testamentary evidence. “It does not go to physical evidence just as a defendant can be ordered to stand up even though he is not going to take the stand, he can be ordered by the court,” the lawyer argued.

The trial judge, however, said that forcing them to put on the shirts had an “incriminatory nature.” The judge said he would not order them to put on the shirts unless the prosecution consented—which the prosecution refused to do.

The trial ended in a mistrial when the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. Montgomery went on trial a second time three months later and neither of the Barnes brothers appeared. The jury convicted Montgomery of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and he was sentenced to 6½ years in prison.

In November 1996, the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial. “The Fifth Amendment does not protect a person from having to try on clothing,” the court declared.

Montgomery was released on bond on December 31, 1996 and he went on trial a third time in June 1997. His defense lawyer, Dan Herrington, subpoenaed Sir Lancelot Barnes to the trial. Barnes put on the shirts and both were a perfect fit. On June 11, 1997, the jury acquitted Montgomery.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 8/24/2014
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1994
Sentence:6 years and 6 months
Age at the date of reported crime:31
Contributing Factors:
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No