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Corey Atchison

Other Oklahoma exonerations
In the early morning hours of August 3, 1990, 19-year-old Corey Atchison was driving his Oldsmobile 98 on Fourth Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with his friends, Ben King, Marquis Alexander, and Mareo Johnson. As they turned onto Atlanta Avenue, they heard gunshots and saw 29-year-old James Lane lying on the street.

Atchison ran to Lane, who was still alive, and yelled for someone to call 911. Lane was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead of a gunshot wound. About two hours later, Atchison and his friends decided to leave. Before they drove off, police searched Atchison’s car and found no weapons or anything illegal.

In the days after the shooting, Tulsa police Detective Robert Jackson questioned Atchison. Atchison said he and his friends heard the shots, saw Lane, and called 911. He said they did not see the shooting and did not know who committed the crime.

A month later, on September 7, 1990, Detective Jackson interviewed King, whose account was similar to Atchison’s. King said there was word on the street that the shooter was LaCount Washington McClendon. Jackson determined that McClendon was in the area of the shooting when it occurred, but when he located McClendon in a psychiatric hospital, he apparently ended his investigation of McClendon.

The crime was still unsolved on February 8, 1991, when 16-year-old Doane Thomas called police and said he was physically assaulted on his way to school by Eric “Big Eric” Smith. Thomas told Detective Jackson that Atchison was with Smith, but he did not take part in the assault. Detective Jackson and Detective Gary Meek then began questioning Thomas about the Lane murder. Thomas said he was on the street when Lane was shot. He said he did not see the shooting, but saw Atchison come to Lane and yell for neighbors to call 911.

Thomas later said that the detectives told him that if Thomas implicated Atchison in the shooting of Lane, then Thomas would never have to worry about Smith again. Thomas would later say that after he was threatened and coerced, he gave a statement naming Atchison as the gunman. In his statement, Thomas said he was on the street with 15-year-old Demacio McClendon at the time of the shooting.

After Thomas gave his statement, police brought in King and McClendon for questioning. King said that he was with Atchison and gave an account similar to that given by Atchison. However, after several hours of interrogation during which King later said he was threatened with being locked up in jail, King gave a statement implicating Atchison as the gunman. McClendon also denied seeing the shooting, but after being threatened with the death penalty or life in prison, he also gave a statement implicating Atchison.

On February 11, 1991, Atchison was arrested on a charge of first-degree murder. King was also charged with first-degree murder, as were Marquis Alexander and Mareo Johnson.

On March 25, a preliminary hearing was held in Tulsa County District Court. Thomas testified he was near the area of the shooting and met up with McClendon. Thomas said that he saw Atchison, King, Johnson, and Alexander confront Lane and that Atchison shot him.

McClendon testified that his statement was false. He said he gave his statement because Detective Jackson threatened him. During cross-examination by attorney Rob Nigh, McClendon said Jackson threatened to put him in jail unless he implicated Atchison.

The judge declared a break and ordered the Assistant District Attorney Tim Harris, the defense lawyers, and McClendon into the judge’s chambers. There McClendon was questioned further and he insisted he didn’t see Atchison do anything wrong. He denied he was with Thomas. McClendon also said a potential witness, Lynette Williams, had told him that detectives brought her to the station and tried to pressure her to say Atchison was the shooter.

The judge then dismissed the charges.

The prosecution filed an amended information on May 2, 1991, charging Atchison with first-degree murder. Trial was set for June 10. On June 5, assistant district attorney Harris disclosed police reports of interviews with two witnesses, Stephenne Jacob and Leticia Nottingham.

The report of Jacob’s interview said that she saw the shooting. She said the gunman was 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighed 140 pounds. Atchison was 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighed 265 pounds. The report of the interview of Nottingham said she heard arguing just before the shooting. She looked out her window and saw two Black men and one white man arguing with Lane. She looked away, heard gunshots, looked back, and Lane was on the street. She said the gunman was in his 30s or 40s, 5 feet 8 or 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighed about 160 or 170 pounds.

Atchison’s defense attorney, Christopher Grant, requested a continuance to investigate and interview the witnesses. That motion was denied and Atchison went to trial.

During opening statements on June 12, 1991, assistant district attorney Harris falsely said that he learned that McClendon was not with Thomas at the shooting when Thomas so informed him. In fact, McClendon had first claimed that he and Thomas were not together during his recantation at the preliminary hearing.

Thomas testified that he saw Atchison shoot Lane. He falsely testified that prior to the preliminary hearing, he told Harris that McClendon was not with him.

King testified that he was with Atchison, Johnson, and Alexander when they heard gunshots and came upon Lane in the street. He recanted his statement to detectives and denied that Atchison shot Lane. King said he gave the false statement because Detective Meek and other detectives were threatening him with the death penalty or life in prison unless he implicated Atchison.

Harris then impeached King by playing a videotape of King’s statement in which he said Atchison was the gunman.

Atchison testified and denied shooting Lane. He told the jury what he had told police from the beginning—they heard shots, turned from Fourth Street onto Atlanta Avenue, saw Lane on the street and yelled for someone to call 911.

Mareo Johnson testified that he was in the car with Atchison, King, and Alexander. His account mirrored Atchison’s account.

During closing arguments, assistant district attorney Harris told the jury that no other witnesses had come forward with information about the murder.

On June 14, 1991, the jury convicted Atchison of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.

In 1994, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals upheld his conviction. Atchison filed a post-conviction petition seeking to overturn his conviction, but it was denied without a hearing. He later filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus, but that was denied because it was filed too late.

In 1995, Atchison’s 17-year-old brother, Malcolm Scott, and 17-year-old De’Marchoe Carpenter were convicted of a shooting in Tulsa that killed a 19-year-old woman and wounded two 16-year-old youths. Scott and Carpenter were sentenced to life in prison.

In 2016, Scott and Carpenter were exonerated. Tulsa County District Court Judge Sharon Holmes found “clear and convincing evidence” that Scott and Carpenter were not involved. She ruled that “[e]ach witness who inculpated [Scott and Carpenter] at trial has recanted their testimony.” The judge said that the actual shooter had confessed to the crime and that two eyewitnesses who were actually in the vehicle with Wilson when the shooting occurred had corroborated the gunman’s admission. The witnesses who had falsely implicated Carpenter and Scott had been coerced by detectives, including Detective Meek.

Carpenter and Scott filed a lawsuit seeking compensation for their wrongful convictions. During that litigation, their attorneys discovered a report written by Detective Ken Makinson not long after Lane was shot. In the report, Makinson said that a woman who identified herself as “Lisa,” called and reported that the gunman was Wayne Jones and that he was accompanied by Reginald Patterson. That report had never been disclosed to Atchison’s defense attorney prior to his trial.

In July 2017, attorney Joseph Norwood filed a post-conviction petition on behalf of Atchison seeking to vacate his conviction. The petition cited the failure of the prosecution to disclose the report written by Makinson that quoted the caller named “Lisa” as identifying the gunman as Wayne Jones.

Norwood noted that a man named Wayne Jones fit the physical description of the gunman. Jones was 5 feet 9 inches tall and 139 pounds. He was 30 at the time of the murder. Jones was a “career criminal” whose crimes involved robberies, Norwood said.

In addition, Norwood said the prosecution had failed to disclose the tape-recorded statement of Doane Thomas, another police report written by Detective Fred Parke saying that the gunman had a street name of “Candyman” (Atchison’s street name was “Cheese”), and the tape and transcription of the detectives’ interview of Nottingham. Norwood argued that the actual tapes of the interviews should have been disclosed—not just the police reports summarizing the interviews.

In addition, Norwood filed an affidavit from Doane Thomas recanting his trial testimony. He said that he falsely implicated Atchison after being threatened and coerced by the detectives. Thomas said that prior to the preliminary hearing, he told assistant district attorney Harris that his statement was false. “I told him [Harris] that I didn’t see the shooting, but I was sure that Corey didn’t do it.”

Thomas said that when he was subpoenaed to appear at the preliminary hearing, Detectives Jackson and Meek came to school and pulled him and Demacio McClendon out of class. “Demacio became so upset with me that he started to get physical with me,” Thomas said in the affidavit. “The detectives intervened before Demacio could lay his hands on me…. He insisted that he did not know a thing about the shooting.”

Thomas said that weeks later, police officers came to his house and took him to assistant district attorney Harris’s office. “I told him I knew nothing about the Lane shooting and that my statement to the police was not true. Even though Harris knew that I had no knowledge regarding the murder, Harris told me that if I did not testify against Atchison and identify him as the shooter, Atchison would get out and kill me.”

“At the time, I was 17 years old, had a learning disability and no parent or guardian present,” Thomas said in the affidavit. “I was scared and believed, based on Tim Harris’[s] statement, that if I did not give false testimony to keep Atchison locked up, he would get out of jail and kill me. Tim Harris coached me regarding the facts of the shooting so that I would testify [at the preliminary hearing] consistently with the coerced statement I made to the police.”

At the conclusion of the preliminary hearing, Thomas said, the detectives took him to the bus station and he moved to McKinney, Texas to get into a job corps program. When the trial began, Thomas was flown to Tulsa.

“When I got to Tulsa to testify, I told Mr. Harris again that I did not know anything about the Lane shooting and that giving false testimony against Atchison again would make me sick,” Thomas said. “Harris told me that if I did not testify against Atchison, Atchison would get out of jail and kill me and that I had come too far and would already be known as a snitch.”

Thomas said that Harris showed him “how to act out the details of the shooting. We rehearsed this several times.”

Thomas said he had occasion to be in the courthouse in 1998 and in 2000. On both occasions he saw Harris and both times, Thomas told Harris that he had testified falsely and that the wrong man was in prison. On the second occasion, “Harris threatened me. Harris told me that if he ever heard those words out of my mouth again, he would make sure I spent 25 years behind bars.”

Ultimately, Judge Holmes held a hearing on the petition. Thomas testified and repeated his recantation. Atchison testified and denied shooting Lane. Other witnesses who testified and supported Atchison’s account included King, Marquis Alexander, and Mareo Johnson, who were in the car with Atchison. McClendon also testified about his recantation during the preliminary hearing.

On July 16, 2019, Judge Holmes vacated Atchison’s conviction, ruling that his case was marred by a “fundamental miscarriage of justice.”

“This court thinks the purported eyewitnesses who were used were coerced,” Holmes said. “Without those witnesses, I don’t think a jury would have found Mr. Atchison guilty of this crime.”

Atchison was released that day and was joined by his brother, Scott, who had been exonerated three years earlier.

Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler defended Harris, noting that Harris “signed and submitted an affidavit in this case which categorically refuted the unsubstantiated allegations against him.”

“Now 25 years after the fact comes a single spurious claim which runs completely counter to the stellar reputation Mr. Harris developed over his entire lifetime,” Kunzweiler said. “Suffice it to say, the state of Oklahoma will be appealing the ruling of Judge Holmes.”

In September 2020, Atchison filed a lawsuit seeking compensation from the state of Oklahoma.

On May 13, 2021, Judge Holmes issued an order dismissing the case against Atchison. The judge noted that she had found Atchison “presented clear and convincing evidence of his actual innocence of the crime for which he was convicted in 1991.”

“This court vacates Mr. Atchison’s conviction, dismisses the case and finds that no further proceedings can be or will be held against Mr. Atchison on any facts and circumstances alleged in the proceedings which had resulted in the conviction,” the judge declared. The prosecution did not appeal the ruling.

In July 2021, Atchison filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Tulsa and the police department, including Detectives Meek, Jackson, Makinson, and Parke.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 9/8/2021
Last Updated: 9/8/2021
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1990
Age at the date of reported crime:19
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No