In early 1986, 22-year-old John Weir was a senior at Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma, where he worked part-time as a student researcher at the university’s Animal Science Center. Police approached Weir about a reported sexual assault of three boys, ages 7, 8, and 11, who occasionally played soccer near where Weir worked. According to police, Weir fit the physical description of the perpetrator, and he quickly became the prime suspect.
Weir was charged with the sexual assault of the three boys. His family hired Robert G. Perrine to represent him. At Weir’s trial in Comanche County District Court, Assistant District Attorney Alberta C. Allen presented evidence that the three boys had identified Weir as the man who had sexually assaulted them, including testimony from the boys. On June 27, 1986, Weir was convicted of seven counts of lewd molestation and forcible oral and anal sodomy. He was sentenced to 51 years in prison on August 12, 1986.
After Weir’s conviction, Perrine began work on an appeal and hired private investigator Dennis Berglan to look into the case. During a July 7, 1986 interview with William Prince, a rebuttal witness for the prosecution at Weir’s trial, Berglan learned that there were videotapes of early statements by the victims that had never been disclosed to the defense. Perrine then attempted to gain access to the tapes, but the district attorney’s office initially refused. Perrine was unable to view the tapes until a new Comanche County district attorney took office in January 1987. On these tapes, the victims provided a different story than what had been presented by the prosecution at Weir’s trial. In their taped interviews, the boys stated that they had been assaulted by several men, including their elementary school principal and Cameron University security guards.
Based on this new evidence, Perrine filed a motion for new trial with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on March 30, 1987. In a response to Perrine’s motion, filed on that same day, Assistant District Attorney Robert Beal said that “the facts and allegations as alleged” in Perrine’s motion, “were true and correct.” Beal agreed that his office had located evidence that should have been turned over to the defense. The court granted Weir’s motion, also on March 30, and Weir was released from prison on a $20,000 bond. Allen, the original prosecuting attorney, who had since left the Comanche County district attorney’s office for a similar position in Texas, filed a motion seeking to block Weir’s new trial. Allen alleged Weir’s motion included false statements and misled the court. The court denied Allen’s motion, finding that a private individual had no right to “usurp the state in processing an appeal.”
Weir’s retrial was in July 1987 before District Judge Kenneth Youngblood. The previously undisclosed tapes were among the evidence presented. The mother of one of the victims testified that her son had spoken of another perpetrator and that Allen had instructed her son not to mention that perpetrator in his testimony. Lawton police detective Tom Roberts testified that when police had received allegations of other suspects prior to Weir’s trial, Allen had instructed them not to pursue these leads. Weir was acquitted on July 27, 1987. In addition to the mental and emotional toll of his ordeal, Weir estimated the costs associated with his trials and appeal were approximately $75,000.
In May 1988, Weir filed a $8.4 million claim in federal court against the district attorneys who prosecuted him, Dick Tannery and Alberta Allen, alleging they had conspired to frame him by failing to investigate other suspects and falsifying and destroying evidence. Vivian White, a social worker with the Department of Human Services, was also a defendant. Weir alleged that White’s interview techniques produced false accusations. The lawsuit against Tannery and Allen was dismissed in November 1988 with the court ruling that their actions were protected by prosecutorial immunity. Weir’s attorney indicated that his claims against White would be dropped since his effective claim was against the prosecutors.
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.