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Timothy Evans

Other North Carolina Exonerations
Shortly after 12:30 a.m. on June 13, 1993, police officers in Durham, North Carolina responded to a shooting on the city’s east side and found the body of 26-year-old Shelton Johnson just inside the door of a second-floor apartment on Park Avenue.

Barbara Page, who lived in the apartment, told police that Johnson had just left the unit when shots rang out. She said that Johnson yelled for her to open the door, then dove through the entrance and collapsed.

A neighbor reported hearing six or seven shots that he said sounded like they came from a .22-caliber semi-automatic rifle.

A forensic technician searched the area around the apartment building and recovered three shell casings near the rear stairwell. The technician returned later and collected four more shell casings. He made a sketch of the location for those additional casings and gave it to the then-lead investigator, Sergeant Darryl Dowdy.

The police interviewed Johnson’s parents, David and JoAnne Parker. They said that their son didn’t live with them and that two weeks before the shooting, he had been in a fight, possibly about drugs, with a man named “Eric/Shawn Blue.” According to the parents, Johnson had given his mother a note a year before his death that said, “If something happen[s] to me, Larry Gene Richmond did it. He work[s] at Bull City Pawn Shop.” JoAnne Parker would later testify that she gave the note to Dowdy.

At the time of the murder, the Durham police had issued an arrest warrant for Johnson in a case involving the shooting of a 14-year-old boy three months earlier. An informant told Detective Paul Daye that Johnson’s death was in retaliation for that shooting, and she named several participants, including the boy. Daye gave that information to Dowdy.

Dr. Brent Hall, a pathologist, performed the autopsy and said that Johnson sustained three gunshot wounds—in the left side of his neck, in the left shoulder, and the left side of his chest, which pierced his lung and heart. He said the three wounds tracked from top to bottom, from front to back, and from left to right.

No weapon was recovered. A report prepared in 1993 by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) said that although the recovered bullets had the same characteristics it could not be determined whether they came from the same gun. Similarly, the report said it could not conclusively determine whether two of the shell casings were from the same weapon.

Twelve years later, Sergeant Jack Cates reviewed the file and found a Crime Stoppers tip from 1995 that the detectives apparently hadn’t pursued. The tip said that Timothy Evans, who was 18 years old at the time of the murder, had shot Johnson in retaliation for Johnson robbing Evans’s cousin. The tip listed Evans and Calvin Moore as suspects and said that Kendrick Doakes had “knowledge about the shooting.” There was also a reference in the files to a 2003 statement by Doakes. Cates assigned the case to Detective Erwin Baker.

On July 28, 2005, Baker visited Doakes at a federal prison in Louisiana, where he was serving 13 years for a robbery conviction. According to Baker’s report, Doakes said that on the day of the murder, he and Evans were selling crack when Antonio Davenport and Richard Waller, Evans’s cousin, drove up in a Geo Tracker and said that Johnson had just robbed Waller of drugs and money.

According to the statement, Evans said they would handle it and the four young men drove to Evans’s house to pick up a rifle. They drove to the apartment on Park Avenue, where Waller said he had been robbed, and parked nearby. Doakes said Evans got out of the car and waited in some bushes near the apartment. When Johnson left the apartment, Doakes said, Evans fired the rifle and later told the others that he “got” Johnson.

During the prison interview, Baker said, Doakes picked out Davenport and Evans from photo arrays.

The police interviewed Davenport and Waller separately on August 11, 2005, using ruses involving unrelated incidents to get the men to come to the station. Eventually, the interviews turned to the Johnson murder and both men gave statements.

Waller said in his statement that Evans had an initial confrontation with Johnson, who was known for “shooting and robbing people.” They went to Evans’s house to get a rifle, then drove over to the apartment building. Waller said that when Johnson came out of the second-floor porch, Evans raised the gun and Waller heard shots.

Davenport said in his statement that Waller approached him and said he had been beaten up and robbed. (Waller did not mention that in his statement.) Davenport said he drove Waller over to see Evans. They ended up at the apartment building. Waller and Evans got out. Davenport said he heard yelling and gunshots. He did not say he saw Evans with a weapon.

Davenport later amended the statement, according to police, and said that Evans had told the others that he was “going to straighten this dude out.” He said that Johnson saw Waller and Evans as he left the apartment and began yelling. “Tim had the gun, and Richard was standing beside him,” Davenport said.

Neither Davenport nor Waller mentioned Doakes in their statements, and both men were allowed to leave. The police arrested Evans later that day, charging him with first-degree murder.

On August 12, after the arrest, Evans was served with a probation violation and spoke with a probation officer.

According to the officer’s notes, Evans said: “I am not going to tote this murder. I was there but I did not [shoot] him. My cousin ... [Waller] ... ratted me out. He is the one that carried the gun, not me. He carries a 40 cal now. He shot that dude and I’m not going to do this time. I need to talk to the detective about this thing.”

Davenport was arrested October 16, 2008, and charged with first-degree murder. Waller was arrested January 5, 2009, and also charged with first-degree murder.

Prior to Evans’s trial, which began on May 12, 2009 in Durham County Superior Court, Waller and Davenport entered into plea agreements with the state and agreed to testify against Evans. Waller pled to second-degree murder and received a 10-year prison sentence. Davenport pled to obstruction of justice and received a suspended sentence.

Hall, the pathologist, testified about the bullet wounds and said he could not determine the position of Johnson’s body at the time of the shooting. He said the tracks of the bullets could “possibly” go from top to bottom if the shooter was above the victim or the victim was below the line of fire.

Chief Medical Examiner Dr. David Farris said Johnson was on the “porch in front of the apartment” when he was “hit” and then “fell through the screen door” into Page’s apartment.

SBI Special Agent Ron Marss, who had prepared the firearm report in 1993, testified that the shell casings pointed to one gun, but the recovered bullets indicated “one gun ... two guns or three guns.” The sketch that the technician had given to Dowdy regarding the location of the second batch of shell casings could not be found.

JoAnne Parker testified about her son’s feud with Richmond and the contents of his note. After a recess, the state recalled Parker. Now, she testified that she had not seen the note until several months after the murder. This contradicted the notes of the interview she gave police on the day of the murder.

Doakes was not called as a witness. Waller and Davenport each testified. Waller said that Evans waited for Johnson across the street and shot him as he left the second-floor apartment. He said that Johnson never made it down the stairs and that Evans did not walk up on him. Waller said that Evans left the rifle in some bushes, although he also said he saw him with the weapon five or six hours later.

Davenport said that he drove Waller and Evans to the apartment and waited for them in the car. He heard the shots but did not see Evans fire a weapon. He said the statement he gave to police wasn’t entirely accurate; He never heard Evans say he was “going to straighten this dude out.” He said he signed the statement because Baker “told me to sign it.”

Neither Davenport nor Waller mentioned Doakes in their testimony.

The probation officer testified about Evans’s statement. Cates testified about the police investigation but was not asked about Doakes.

Evans did not testify. His attorney did not present any evidence.

In his closing argument, the prosecutor sidestepped the discrepancy between Waller’s testimony and the forensic evidence and testimony about the likely trajectory of the bullets and said that Waller’s testimony indicated Johnson was shot at the apartment door, not the stairs. In his opening statement, the prosecutor had said Johnson was shot on the stairs and had to climb back up into Page’s apartment.

The prosecutor said Waller’s testimony was credible because he would not have pled guilty to a crime he did not commit. Even though Davenport testified that he did not see the shooting, his testimony placed Waller and Evans at the scene of the crime, the prosecutor said.

The jury convicted Evans of second-degree murder on May 15, 2009. He later received a sentence of 45 years in prison.

Evans appealed, arguing that there had been insufficient evidence to support his conviction, which relied on the uncorroborated and incentivized testimony of Waller and Davenport. The North Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction on January 4, 2011.

Evans later filed a motion in state court for post-conviction relief, claiming his trial attorney was ineffective and that several jurors had committed misconduct by discussing the case in public and seemingly ignoring the trial judge’s instructions about a defendant’s right to remain silent. That motion was denied.

Evans filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina on November 1, 2013 that raised the same issues. The petition was denied on procedural grounds.

In 2019, the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence (NCCAI) entered into an agreement with the Durham County District Attorney’s Office regarding the center’s review of Durham felony convictions, including Evans’s case.

In 2020, Waller recanted his statement to police and his trial testimony. In an affidavit, Waller said he was not involved in the murder and did not know who killed Johnson. He said that he gave a false statement to the police in 2005 to get a favorable plea deal. He said he was told that if he did not take the plea, he would be sentenced to life in prison and that he was scared he would never see his child grow up. He also said that he never associated with Doakes.

Davenport died in 2021.

Based on Waller’s recantation, Christine Mumma, NCCAI’s executive director, moved for a new trial on July 15, 2022. The motion said that Waller’s testimony was at odds with the evidence.

“He claimed Mr. Evans shot Johnson from across the street, standing in grass and bushes, as Johnson walked out of his second-floor apartment,” the motion said. “However, the shell casings and bullet hole were located in the rear of the building by the stairs, and the bullets traveled top to bottom through Johnson’s body.”

The motion also said that Waller’s testimony differed in important ways from Davenport’s. Waller had testified that Evans left the rifle in some bushes. Davenport said Evans took the rifle with him before the men drove off. In addition, the motion said, Davenport never said he saw Evans fire any shots.

The motion also noted Dowdy’s involvement in the wrongful conviction of Darryl Howard in 1995. A federal jury later found that Dowdy had fabricated evidence in that case.

Evans was released on parole on September 7, 2022.

Judge Edwin Wilson Jr. held a one-day hearing on November 7, 2023, in Durham County Superior Court, hearing testimony from Waller, Cates and Baker. Ten days later, Judge Wilson granted Evans a new trial.

In his ruling, Judge Wilson said he found Waller’s recantation to be credible. He said the police “blindsided” Waller at the 2005 interview and pressured him to implicate Evans. Judge Wilson also noted that prior to the evidentiary hearing, the state had told Waller that his new statements could lead to the revocation of his plea agreement. Waller’s decision to testify, Judge Wilson said, bolstered his recantation.

Baker had testified that he was not concerned about inconsistencies between Doakes’s statements and those provided by Waller and Davenport. But Judge Wilson wrote that presented its own set of problems. “Most glaringly, Mr. Doakes implicated himself as present during Mr. Johnson’s murder in his 2003 and 2005 statements but none of the other purported participants mentioned him as being involved, much less present,” Judge Wilson wrote.

The state dismissed the charge against Evans on January 31, 2024.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 3/7/2024
Last Updated: 3/7/2024
State:North Carolina
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1993
Sentence:45 years
Age at the date of reported crime:18
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No