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Quincy Amerson

Other North Carolina Exonerations
At about 4:15 a.m. on August 7, 1999, Denise Parker discovered the body of a young girl in the westbound lane of Cameron Hill Road in Harnett County, North Carolina. At the time, Parker had been driving east on the rural, unlit road, and she quickly turned around and parked on the shoulder.

Parker tried to call 911 but couldn’t get a signal. Eventually, she was able to call her husband and ask him to report the incident. While Parker waited, a Chevrolet Celebrity came down the westbound lane and ran over the girl’s body. The driver and the passenger got out to look at the body, then drove off.

After Parker’s husband showed up, a Honda Accord drove up from the east. Thomas Bradshaw was driving, and Clinton Hill was his passenger. The two men stopped and talked with the Parkers, then drove off.

Patrolman J.B. Harvey with the North Carolina Highway Patrol was the first law-enforcement officer on the scene. By then, two fire trucks had blocked the road and an ambulance was also at the scene.

EMT William Hayes surveyed the road and the area around the girl’s body. He drove on the westbound shoulder of the road and parked there, about 30 feet from the body. Hayes would later note the presence of four pools of blood. One was near the body. Another was two feet away, close to the road’s fog line. A third was near some denim fabric that appeared similar to the girl’s clothing. The fourth was in the grass. Hayes also found a piece of bumper molder in the eastbound lane and tire marks in the grass.

Patrolman D.L. Hawkins arrived at 5:19 a.m. He would later testify that after reviewing the scene, he determined the girl’s death was intentional.

Highway Patrol Sergeant William Thompson arrived shortly after Hawkins. He observed the body tissue and blood along the road and took note of a wheel-well liner in the eastbound lane. Like Hawkins, he assumed the death was an intentional homicide, and he asked the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) and the Harnett County Sheriff’s Department to take over the case.

SBI Agent Michael East arrived shortly after 6:30 a.m. He took photos of the girl’s face and saw a bracelet with the name “Sharita” near the body. East contacted the principal of the local elementary school and learned the child was 7-year-old Sharita Rivera, who lived about three miles away in the Brafford Estates neighborhood. Her mother, Patrice Rivera, was a sergeant in the U.S. Army stationed at nearby Fort Bragg, now called Fort Liberty. Sharita’s father also served in the military and was stationed in South Korea.

Police went to Sharita’s home around 12:20 p.m. and knocked on the door. No one answered. They heard an infant crying, entered the house through a window, and found a baby boy in one bedroom and the body of Patrice Rivera in another. Patrice, who was 28 years old, had been stabbed multiple times and her throat had been slit. Investigators collected a wide range of evidence from the house, including blood, cigarette butts, fingerprints, and a bloody palm print. A Black Acura was parked in the driveway. A friend told police she had last seen Rivera and her children at 9:30 p.m. on August 6.

East began interviewing neighbors, including 24-year-old Quincy Amerson, who lived about 75 yards away from the Riveras.

Amerson said he had last spoken with Patrice on August 6, which was a Friday, and that the last time he had been inside her home was about a month earlier, when he and Rivera had sex. At the time of the interview, Amerson was on probation, with an 8 p.m. curfew.

In Amerson’s first statement to East, he said that he left the house after curfew and drove his girlfriend’s car back to her house and spent the night there. The girlfriend, Regina Garrett, had dropped Amerson back at his house the next morning and then driven to Charlotte for a wedding.

East would write in his report that when he told Amerson about the two deaths, which East referred to as “murders,” Amerson’s first response was simply the word, “Oh.” Later in the interview, according to East, Amerson said that he did not kill either person.

Although Amerson had told East that he didn’t know anybody who would have wanted to hurt either person, he later mentioned a man whom Patrice Rivera had taken out a warrant against, as someone the police should investigate.

Amerson said he would be willing to take a polygraph test or submit to computerized voice-stress analysis. The analysis was administered later that afternoon. The officer who administered the test told Amerson that the results indicated deception, and Amerson now said he had been conducting a drug transaction in the early morning of August 7. After the test’s conclusion, Amerson left the sheriff’s office and went home.

After Garrett returned from Charlotte on August 8, a sheriff’s detective inspected her car and noticed a missing wheel-well liner. He contacted East, who inspected the car and saw what appeared to be blood, hair and human tissue on the vehicle’s undercarriage.

At about 4 p.m., East, now joined by Sheriff’s Detective Del Webb, interviewed Amerson a second time. They picked up Amerson at his house and brought him to the sheriff’s office. Amerson was not read his Miranda rights, and East told him he was free to leave.

Amerson again discussed his whereabouts on the night of August 6 and morning of August 7, adding more detail to his route and his activities. He said he got to Garrett’s house around 2 a.m. East then told Amerson about the evidence found on Garrett’s vehicle. Amerson asked to see the Honda, and the investigators took him to the county garage, where the car was on a lift.

When they returned to the sheriff’s office, the interview continued. Amerson said he did not remember the route he had taken to Garrett’s house, because he said he was high on alcohol and marijuana at the time. He said he might have taken a circuitous route, one that took him down Cameron Hill Road, to avoid the police patrolling the main road.

East asked him why he hadn’t mentioned this before. Amerson answered, “When I went down that road, I didn’t feel bumps or whatever.”

Amerson later said that maybe he ran over some of Sharita’s brains or blood but not her body. East said that if Amerson was driving west, he would have come into contact with her body because of its positioning. “Maybe I ran over pieces of her in the road,” he said. Later in the interview, Amerson said it was possible he was being framed by an enemy and he had nothing to do with either death.

After East had a discussion with Harnett County District Attorney Tom Lock, Amerson was charged with first-degree murder in Sharita’s death. Neither Amerson nor anyone else was ever charged with Patrice’s murder.

At the time of Amerson’s arrest, the police had taken statements from Elizabeth Hogg and Ronnie Anderson, the couple in the Chevy Celebrity. They described accidentally running over Sharita’s body in the moments after Parker arrived at the scene. Hogg and Anderson both said Hogg was driving, although Parker told police and would later testify a man was driving. Anderson said he and Hogg didn’t stay around because he had consumed a case of beer and had a previous narcotics conviction.

Ryan Gautier told Thompson on August 8, prior to Amerson’s arrest, that he believed that he had also accidentally run over Sharita’s body on the morning of August 7, at about 4 a.m. He said he had initially thought he hit an animal but came forward after reading a newspaper story about the two deaths. Gautier had already washed the undercarriage of his truck by the time he talked with Thompson. Thompson had not informed East and Lock of Gautier’s statement when East arrested and charged Amerson.

State investigators processed the evidence gathered on Cameron Hill Road. Although Garrett’s car was missing a wheel-well liner and the liner found near Sharita’s body was an after-market Honda model, the SBI analyzed the liner and reported “no physical match” between the two items. The liner found on the road had been run over, leaving a tire print. The SBI reported that the print “was consistent with having been made by the front tire on the driver’s side of [Garrett’s] black Honda Accord ... or any other tire having the same tread design and the same size of the tread design.” In addition, forensic analysts continued to study turnaround tire tracks on the side of the road, trying to connect them with Garrett’s vehicle.

On March 14, 2000, police in Harnett County arrested Brandon Herring, who was friends with Bradshaw and Anderson, on larceny charges, and he was placed in the Harnett County Jail, where Amerson was also held. Three days later, Amerson gave his attorney, Timothy Morris, a letter written by Herring that provided new details of the traffic death on Cameron Hill Road.

In the letter, Herring said that Anderson woke him up on the morning of August 7 and said he had just run over a little girl in the road. According to Herring, Anderson said he wasn’t initially sure what he hit, so he backed up over the object, then realized it was a body. “When he seen what it was it scared him, so he gased (sic) on it and ran over her again,” Herring wrote.

Herring also wrote in his letter that Bradshaw had come by his house shortly after Anderson left and told Herring that he had also run over Sharita’s body. While Herring had already told investigators about Anderson’s actions, this new account was more detailed and appeared to be in conflict with how Parker described the interaction between Anderson’s vehicle and Sharita’s body. It was also the first time Bradshaw was mentioned as another driver who may have hit Sharita.

Morris spoke with Herring and confirmed he was the author of the letter. Morris was later removed from representing Amerson because of a perceived conflict of interest. It’s not clear from available records whether Morris gave this letter to Amerson’s new attorneys, Holt Felmet and Ray Pleasant.

A month later, on April 19, 2000, Herring gave a statement to East and other investigators that said Amerson had confessed to his involvement in the deaths of Sharita and Patrice Rivera. Herring said that Amerson’s confession, made two weeks earlier, occurred after Amerson became intoxicated on some homemade wine and contraband marijuana.

Herring said that Amerson told him that he and a man named Gregory Porter had killed Patrice Rivera and then knocked Sharita unconscious with another object. Then, according to Herring, Amerson and Porter took Sharita in her mother’s car and drove her to Cameron Hill Road and dumped the body. The men returned the car to the Rivera home and left in Garrett’s Honda. Herring said that Amerson told him that he dropped Porter off and then returned to Cameron Hill Road to run over the girl’s body to make sure she was dead. Herring said that Amerson told him a piece of the fender came off on the way home.

Herring said that Amerson never told him why he killed Patrice or Sharita. He also didn’t disclose what he did with the murder weapons.

Herring said he tried again to engage Amerson in a discussion after this initial conversation, but Amerson no longer wanted to talk. In his statement, Herring said that he had talked with Amerson’s attorney and told him about Anderson, Hill, and Bradshaw. But the statement made no mention of a letter.

After Herring made this statement, the state also charged Amerson with kidnapping and felony murder in Sharita’s death.

On August 15, 2000, Thompson finished his accident-reconstruction report, which concluded that Sharita’s death was a single-car homicide and that she had been “intentionally run over, more than once by the 1992 Honda Accord” driven by Amerson.

According to Thompson’s report, Sharita had been initially run over on the westbound shoulder of the road. He said this was supported by tire tracks, a spot of blood on the shoulder, and a broken hair bow embedded in dirt near the shoulder.

Thompson said that Sharita was then picked up and carefully carried and placed into the westbound lane. He based this conclusion on a series of blood spots in the center of the westbound lane. Each spot was circular in shape, with no elliptical tail, which Thompson said meant the girl’s body was held parallel to the road. “The blood spots were in almost a perfect circle, as if the person carrying the body had turned in a circle, in an attempt to place the body in the correct position on the roadway,” Thompson wrote.

Although Thompson’s report mentioned Gautier, Anderson, and Hogg, it quickly dismissed their vehicles as having any involvement in Sharita’s death.

Thompson’s report did not mention Bradshaw, who months later gave a statement to East and other investigators. Bradshaw said he and Hill were on Cameron Hill Road at about 3 a.m. on August 7, when they saw a dark-colored Honda parked on the side of the road. The car quickly sped away. Then, Bradshaw said, he and Hill saw Sharita’s body. Bradshaw said they went to a friend’s house to call 911 and when they returned to the area, it appeared that Rivera had been run over again, because her body was in a different location.

Amerson’s trial in Harnett County Superior Court, presided over by Judge Thomas Haigwood, began in late March 2001. The state’s case was built largely around Herring’s testimony and Thompson’s report. Lock sought the death penalty.

Parker testified about coming across Sharita’s body in the middle of the westbound lane, waiting for the EMS and police to arrive, and then seeing the car with Hogg and Anderson run over Sharita’s body.

Gautier testified that he was driving west on Cameron Hill Road at about 4:05 a.m. when he saw something in the middle of the road. He said he attempted to straddle it, but “it hit the underneath rear of my truck.”

Thompson testified as an expert witness. He had investigated nearly 2,000 accidents and performed reconstructions in about 45 collisions. But this was his first homicide. He testified that his examination of the crime scene found three sets of tire prints near Sharita’s body, and that they were all from a single vehicle.

“It is my opinion that … after having found the wheel-well liner that we found with blood—traces of blood and denim and then finding blood under—in this area of this vehicle indicated to me—and my opinion is that this vehicle had to travel over that body more than once,” Thompson said. “Once with the wheel-well liner in place, and subsequent times with the wheel-well liner missing ... My opinion is, after a thorough investigation of the scene itself, after viewing … all the vehicles involved, it’s my opinion that Sharita Rivera was ran over several times intentionally by the black Honda in question.”

Thompson’s initial report had said that a bloody tire print was an “identical match” to Garrett’s Honda Accord. But the SBI’s examination of the print didn’t say that, and Thompson amended his report. At trial, he testified his wife had made an inadvertent mistake when she typed up the report.

Jonathan Macy, an SBI analyst, testified about the bolt holes on the wheel-well liner found near Sharita’s body. He said the liner was an after-market Honda part, but did not match the mounts on Garrett’s Honda. He also said that testing did not conclude that the tire print found on the wheel-well liner came from Garrett’s Honda. “There may be other tires that have the same design and the same size that would also be considered consistent with that [tire] impression,” he said.

Herring testified about Amerson’s purported confession, which Herring said occurred after they had drunk homemade wine in jail.

“[Amerson] said that him and Greg Porter killed her mother, took the little girl and beat her unconscious, put them in the car—in the mother’s car, took them to Cameron Hill Road, dropped her out. He said he went back home. He went back to where the house was, said he got in his car, him and Greg Porter, said he dropped Greg Porter off on Gilchrist Road and he went back to Cameron Hill Road to run over the little girl and make sure she was dead … He said a plastic piece of his car had come off the fender.” (Porter was not charged in either death.)

Herring said that the state had not promised him anything in exchange for his testimony, but he also testified that he was released from jail on bond after he gave his statement against Amerson. Later, Herring testified, several other charges were consolidated for sentencing, and he was released on time served.

The hand-written letter Herring gave to Amerson in the Harnett County Jail was not introduced at trial.

Bradshaw testified about his statement to East and said he did not run over Sharita while driving on Cameron Hill Road.

Amerson did not testify, but his attorneys attempted to cast doubt on the state’s narrative by presenting evidence that another man might have had a motive to kill Patrice Rivera.

Keisha Jackson testified that on the afternoon of August 6, 1999, Patrice made several calls to a sergeant major in the U.S. Army with whom she had a relationship. According to Jackson, Rivera left several voicemail messages “telling him that she was going to, of course, tell everybody that they had been having sex; she was going to cut him up; she was going to kill him; and, that she was going to basically tell everybody; she was going to make him lose everything he had.”

Special Agent David Rogers of the United States Army Criminal Investigation Command testified that he went to the sergeant major’s house on the afternoon that police found Patrice’s body. He said there was evidence of car washing. Rogers said the army opened up a Commander’s Inquiry into the relationship between Rivera and the sergeant major. The inquiry concluded that the officer used poor judgment but found no physical evidence to support more serious charges of adultery or unprofessional fraternizing.

Dr. Allen Eberhart, an engineer and accident-reconstruction specialist, testified as an expert witness for the defense. He said that after conducting a road test with Garrett’s Honda and a rear-wheel drive car, he concluded that the tire tracks were from a rear-wheel drive vehicle.

During his closing argument, Lock told jurors that they didn’t need to like Herring or approve of his lifestyle. “But his testimony about the defendant’s statement fit perfectly with all the other evidence in the case; hence, the conclusions that we draw from the evidence are inevitable. The defendant was driving Regina Garrett's black Honda and intentionally ran over Sharita’s body as it lay in the roadway. He killed her. That 7-year-old girl, ladies and gentlemen, did not get there, in the middle of the road, by herself while her mother lay dead in their home. The defendant kidnapped Sharita.”

The prosecutor said that Herring’s testimony about Porter and Amerson taking Sharita’s body in Patrice’s car to Cameron Hill Road explained the lack of Sharita’s blood and fingerprints in Regina Garrett’s Honda. (No blood evidence was found in Patrice’s car to support the state’s theory that the girl was transported in her mother’s vehicle.)

On April 5, 2001, the jury acquitted Amerson of kidnapping and felony murder but convicted him of first-degree murder. Four days later, jurors recommended that Amerson receive a sentence of life in prison without parole and not the death penalty.

Amerson appealed, arguing that there had been insufficient evidence to support his conviction and that Judge Haigwood had erred in preventing his attorney from presenting potentially exculpatory evidence. The appeal also said that Judge Haigwood should not have allowed Thompson to testify as an expert witness.

The North Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction on June 17, 2003. It said that Thompson’s report provided sufficient evidence of Amerson’s guilt beyond Herring’s testimony. It also said that Judge Haigwood’s rulings were proper and that the excluded evidence would not have changed the trial’s outcome.

In 2006, the Duke Law School Wrongful Convictions Clinic began representing Amerson. In 2016, James Coleman Jr., the clinic’s director, asked then-Harnett County District Attorney Vernon Stewart and North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein to hire an expert to review Thompson’s original report. Coleman did not get a reply. In all, Coleman asked the Attorney General and elected prosecutors four times, the most recent in 2022, to hire its own reconstruction expert and offered to help defray the cost of doing so.

Coleman then hired Shawn Harrington, a forensic engineer and accident reconstructionist, to review the forensic evidence and Thompson’s conclusions. Harrington’s report, completed in 2020, offered a blistering critique of Thompson’s methods and said the officer had displayed tunnel vision, misinterpreting the evidence to portray Sharita’s death as a one-car homicide rather than a complex and tragic chain of events where at least four vehicles, including the Honda driven by Amerson, likely struck or ran over Sharita.

“There was insufficient evidence to conclude that Mr. Amerson intentionally killed Sharita Rivera,” Harrington wrote. “Sgt. Thompson simply did not explain nor rule out other plausible and potential scenarios for Sharita Rivera’s death.”

Harrington said Thompson’s conclusion about the circular blood spots was illogical, because it would have required a person to hold the girl’s body steady while rotating and stopping eight times to achieve the pattern. A more likely cause, Harrington said, was blood dripping from the undercarriage of one of the vehicles that struck Sharita.

Harrington said the number of known vehicles and the possibility of other unknown vehicles made it impossible to form meaningful conclusions about the order in which Sharita’s body was hit. “[T]he only questions that can be answered in a collision such as this were whether a vehicle interacted with Sharita’s body. Any inferences or conclusions beyond this threshold question would be an abuse of the available evidence. Put simply, there was no peer-reviewed or generally accepted methodology in the field of accident reconstruction that can support Sgt. Thompson’s analysis. His opinions and conclusions are junk science.”

On June 17, 2021, Coleman filed a motion for a new trial based on Harrington’s report and new evidence that further clouded the question of how and when Sharita was run over.

In a 2017 affidavit included in the motion, Hill said Bradshaw ran over an unidentified object on Cameron Hill Road just after midnight. They headed over to Herring’s house and saw Anderson washing down a Jeep-like SUV, not a Chevrolet Celebrity. Herring said Anderson thought he had hit a deer on Cameron Hill Road. Bradshaw said he had done the same thing.

Hill said he and Bradshaw left Herring’s house at around 4 a.m. and then saw the Parkers and Sharita’s body on the road. Hill said he never saw a dark-colored Honda on the road. Hill also said that the district attorney offered to help him on a felony charge if he would testify against Amerson, but he refused.

Hill’s affidavit suggested that Anderson might have hit Sharita twice, first in the Jeep-like vehicle, and later, after Parker discovered the body, in the Celebrity with Hogg.

The motion said Harrington’s report and the other evidence did not support Thompson’s conclusions about what happened on Cameron Hill Road.

“At most, those facts would confirm only a fact that is not in dispute: that Garrett’s Honda Accord was one of the five vehicles known to have collided with Sharita’s body,” the motion said.

Separately, the motion said that Thompson, who died in March 2021, had testified falsely about the typing error. His claim that his wife had made a mistake was contradicted by the inclusion of tire-tread photographs referenced in this section.

Coleman, in his research, had found a file listing items recovered four days after the deaths along Highway 24, the main road adjacent to Sharita’s neighborhood. One of the items was a child’s scrunchie that said “I Love Jesus.” A family friend told Amerson’s legal team that the item belonged to Sharita.

“These facts strongly suggest that Sharita was not driven or otherwise taken to the scene of her death by Amerson or another person but rather that she tragically arrived at the scene of her death under her own power,” said the motion, which included references to other cases where young children had wandered for miles after witnessing a horrific event.

The scrunchie was not introduced at trial; it’s not clear whether this evidence was disclosed to Amerson’s attorneys or they failed to introduce it.

The new-trial motion also said that Amerson’s two attorneys had provided ineffective representation. The motion did not explain why Herring’s letter wasn’t used at trial, but it said this was just one of several failures to investigate what really happened on Cameron Hill Road and challenge the state’s version of events.

The state’s theory, as based on the kidnapping charge and Herring’s testimony, was that Patrice’s murderer had taken Sharita from the house. The motion said Amerson’s acquittal on that charge meant the jury had rejected that account and that there was no evidence that a crime had been committed. “There is no other evidence in the record from which one could conclude that Sharita was alive when Amerson ran over her body, let alone that he killed her intentionally,” the motion said.

After the state filed its response, Amerson’s attorneys deposed several of the state’s witnesses, including East and Webb, who said the new evidence, including Herring’s letter and Hill’s affidavit, would have been critical to properly assessing the case against Amerson. Webb said it was possible that “Amerson ran over Sharita’s dead body.”

In December 2023, after the court scheduled an evidentiary hearing on Amerson’s motion, the state consulted with the head of the Highway Patrol’s reconstruction unit. On January 17, 2024, at the evidentiary hearing, Sergeant Roderick Murphy, a crash-reconstruction supervisor with the Highway Patrol, testified that Thompson’s report was based on an inadequate investigation and drew false conclusions about what happened and who was responsible for Sharita’s death. “There is just absolutely nothing in this report that I can sit here and testify that this was an intentional act,” Murphy said.

On February 16, Judge C. Winston Gilchrist of Harnett County Superior Court granted Amerson’s motion and vacated his conviction. On March 13, 2024, Suzanne Matthews, the Harnett County District Attorney, dismissed the case. Amerson was released from jail.

“When the prosecutor finally had to address the irrefutable facts demonstrating his innocence, she was forced to concede that the evidence on which the State relied to convict Quincy of murder in 2001 was, in the words of her own expert, ‘invalid’ and did not support the conclusion Quincy had killed the young victim,” Coleman said.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 5/19/2024
Last Updated: 5/19/2024
State:North Carolina
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1999
Sentence:Life without parole
Age at the date of reported crime:24
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No