On January 30, 1982, a man attacked 19-year-old Patty Johnson from behind as she walked from her car to her residence in Galveston, Texas. The assailant slashed Johnson’s throat with a knife before he was scared off by a man who heard Johnson’s screams. Johnson described the attacker as a Black man, approximately 5’ 11” tall and about 150 pounds. The knife was not recovered.
Johnson viewed a photographic lineup and identified 25-year-old Howard Mosley as her attacker. Mosley had two previous felony convictions for robbery and the unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. Police arrested Mosley, who was 6’ 7” tall, on February 16, 1982. He denied any involvement in the crime but was indicted for attempted murder on March 24, 1982.
Mosley’s jury trial began on July 12, 1982 in Galveston County’s 56th Judicial District Court before Judge I. Allan Lerner. Assistant District Attorney Richard Crowther prosecuted the case. Attorney Robert Hoskins represented Mosley. Johnson’s identification was the state’s only evidence against Mosley. Mosley testified in his defense and said he was at home with his girlfriend, Linda Sanchez, and his brother at the time of the attack. Available records don’t state whether the brother or his girlfriend testified. Mosley was convicted of attempted murder on July 15, 1982. Lerner sentenced Mosley to life in prison under Texas’s habitual offender law, which required a mandatory life sentence for a third felony conviction.
Prior to Mosley’s trial, Houston police arrested 28-year-old Coral Eugene Watts on May 23, 1982, for an attack on two young women. Watts, a bus mechanic, had allegedly tied the women up and attempted to drown one, at which time the other woman escaped and called police. Details of the crime and Watts’s arrest drew the attention of police in Ann Arbor, Michigan, because of the similarities to three unsolved murders that had occurred in Ann Arbor in 1980, known as the “Sunday slasher” slayings.
In August 1982, Watts admitted that he had killed more than 20 women in Texas and Michigan. Prosecutors in Texas arranged a plea deal in which Watts would provide details about these unsolved murders in exchange for immunity for the crimes and a maximum prison sentence of 60 years on a reduced charge of burglary. On August 13, 1982, a month after Mosley’s conviction, Galveston County District Attorney James Hury announced that Watts had also confessed to an attack that resembled the January 30 attack on Patty Johnson. In confirming his story, Watts provided police with an account of the crime, although some details were said to be vague and imprecise. Watts was said to resemble Mosley in appearance, but much shorter and the same height Johnson had estimated for her attacker. “[Watts] gave us a scenario which causes us to be most concerned,” Hury said.
After learning of Watts’s confession, Hoskins proposed to Hury that Mosley submit to a polygraph examination. The government administered the polygraph, but the results were deemed inconclusive. Hoskins told the press that Mosley was willing to be hypnotized or undergo the use of truth serum if needed to help clear his name.
On August 17, 1982, Galveston County’s 56th District Court granted Mosley’s motion for a new trial. Hury agreed to dismiss the charge against Mosley for the attack on Johnson. Mosley remained in jail briefly on an unrelated assault charge and parole violation. Both charges were dropped on September 2, 1982, and Mosley was released. Linda Sanchez, whom Mosley had married during his time in prison, said she had never doubted he would be set free because she knew he was innocent and had been with her the night of the assault.
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.