Winfred J. Peterson and his co-defendant, Tyrone James, were both sentenced to life in prison for the September 1, 1981 murder of Lawrence “Billy” Leslie, owner of the convenience store American Superette in Florence, South Carolina. Peterson and James were also convicted of conspiracy to commit armed robbery and attempted armed robbery.
Arrested on the basis of eyewitness testimony, Peterson and James, both 24-year-old black men, were convicted of this robbery-murder primarily on the strength of the testimony of a police officer, who stated that he had overheard them making incriminating statements about the crime while he was transporting them after their arrests.
Two other men, Eddie Myers Johnson and Leroy Johnson, were also arrested for the robbery-murder. While they were awaiting trial, a witness who had been hesitant to come forward told authorities that the men she had seen running away from the grocery store after the robbery were not those in custody. A new investigation resulted in the arrest of four men, one of whom, Bernard Crawford, signed an affidavit admitting to the robbery and murder of Leslie. He also identified the location of the gun used to commit the crime.
On August 23, 1982, taking into account the new evidence, the court ordered a new trial for James and Peterson. James was released from jail on his own recognizance and on September 23, 1982, the Florence County grand jury dropped the charges against both Peterson and James. Peterson remained in custody because he pleaded guilty to an unrelated crime of breaking and entering and received a concurrent sentence of 15 years in prison.
– Yuliya Balabon and Dolores Kennedy
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.