In 1906, 26-year-old Lawrence Nelson disappeared from the rooming house where he lived in Caldwell County, North Carolina. When his body was discovered ten weeks later, buried in a shallow grave, his roommate, Hamp Kendall, and his friend, John Vickers (also referenced as John Vickus), were suspected in the murder. Nelson had been shot to death. Both Vickers and Kendall had been absent from work on the day Nelson went missing, which led police to become suspicious that they had been involved.
In building their case against Vickers and Kendall, police relied heavily on statements made by a fourteen-year-old girl, Omah Grier (also referenced as Omey Greer). Grier claimed that she and her friend, Maggie Lewis, had been paid by Vickers and Kendall to lure Nelson to a designated spot in the woods. She claimed that after doing so, she and Lewis had heard shots as they fled the area. Other witnesses claimed to have seen the three men walking together the morning that Nelson disappeared. Vickers took the stand in his own defense and denied any involvement in the murder. John Vickers and Hamp Kendall were convicted of murder in the second degree in March 1907. Kendall was sentenced to thirty years in prison and Vickers was sentenced to twenty-six years, with the slightly lesser sentence being due to Vickers’ service in the army and honorable discharge therefrom. Nelson’s tombstone was inscribed with the words “Robbed and murdered by Hamp Kendall and John Vickers.”
The men’s convictions were confirmed on appeal. However, due to inconsistencies in the witness statements – specifically those made by Grier and Lewis – further investigation into Nelson’s death was conducted. This investigation led to the arrest of Sam Green, a night watchman, and Omah Grier herself, who was also Green’s cousin. Green and Grier were then tried for Nelson’s murder, but acquitted by a jury in 1908.
In 1917, however, an investigation ordered by Governor Thomas Walter Bickett concluded that, although they had been acquitted, Sam Green had murdered Lawrence Nelson and Omah Grier had assisted Green in framing Kendall and Vickers. Kendall and Vickers were then released and received full pardons from Governor Bickett on April 3, 1917. Vickers died shortly after his release. Five years after Kendall and Vickers were granted pardons, Green confessed to the murder of Nelson and then committed suicide.
In 1947, Kendall received $4,912.56 in compensation from the North Carolina legislature. He spent many years following his release seeking to have his name removed from Nelson’s tombstone. Finally, in 1949, when he was 74 years old, Kendall successfully convinced the government to remove the slanderous tombstone.
- Meghan Barrett Cousino
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.