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On July 5, 1965, 68-year-old Idus Wimberly was shot in his home in Linthicum Heights, Maryland. Wimberly died at South Baltimore General Hospital three days later. The shooting occurred during an argument following a family party at Wimberly’s house, and 46-year-old Riley Brooks, the husband of Wimberly’s niece, was charged with murder in Wimberly’s death on July 9, 1965.
Brooks went to trial before a jury in January 1966 in Anne Arundel Circuit Court with Judge Matthew S. Evans presiding. State’s Attorney Marvin H. Anderson prosecuted the case, and Jerome F. Connell represented Brooks. According to testimony, the shooting followed a Fourth of July party at Wimberly’s house. Wimberly’s widow, Myrtle Wimberly, testified that her husband had made comments that upset Brooks, then raised a chair at Brooks and ordered him to leave. She testified that Brooks then shot her unarmed husband several times.
Brooks testified that Myrtle Wimberly was not in the room at the time of the shooting. He testified that during his argument with Idus Wimberly, Idus had pulled out a pearl-handled gun, which Brooks was able to wrestle away from him. Brooks said Idus then pulled another gun from under his mattress, at which time Brooks had fired at Idus in self-defense. Brooks testified that Idus had then fired shots at him as he fled from the Wimberly home. Witnesses who were at the party testified that Idus had pulled out a gun earlier during the party and fired at another guest.
The jury found Brooks guilty of first-degree murder on January 17, 1966, and Judge Evans sentenced Brooks to life in prison. Brooks remained free on $7,500 bond pending his appeal.
The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland affirmed Brooks’s conviction on April 3, 1968. However, due to a clerical error, no one contacted Brooks about beginning to serve his sentence. The oversight was not noticed until January 1971, at which time Brooks was arrested and taken to the Maryland Penitentiary.
Attorney Donald G. McIntosh took over representation of Brooks and sought the available police records relating to the killing. In reviewing these files, McIntosh discovered a police report that included a statement by Myrtle Wimberly to a state trooper given immediately after the shooting. According to this report, and contrary to her trial testimony, Myrtle said that her husband had pulled out a gun to shoot Brooks and still had the gun in his hand when Brooks shot him. Myrtle also told police that she hid her husband’s second gun after he was shot. Myrtle Wimberly was dead by the time McIntosh saw this report in 1972. Connell, Brooks’s trial attorney, said that the report had not been provided to him in response to his discovery motion. When asked if he felt the state had suppressed this evidence, Connell responded, “I know they did.” Former prosecutor Marvin H. Anderson said that he had no recollection of this police report.
In paying for his defense, Brooks had spent his life savings as well as money borrowed from a friend. While Brooks was in prison, his wife divorced him and some of the couple’s six children were placed in foster care. After the police report surfaced, Raymond G. Thieme, Jr., who had replaced Anderson as Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney, reexamined Brooks’s case and said that “this evidence was either suppressed or negligently overlooked by defense counsel.” He said, “it became apparent that the defendant was not afforded a fair trial.” Thieme recommended a full gubernatorial pardon for Brooks, which Governor Marvin Mandel granted on January 18, 1973.
Several attempts by lawmakers to secure compensation for Brooks’s wrongful imprisonment were unsuccessful. Finally, in May 1980, Brooks received $40,000 in compensation for his wrongful imprisonment pursuant to a law passed by the Maryland General Assembly.
Asked about his time behind bars, Brooks said, “Nobody knows but the man who goes there what a prison does to you… Two years was more like 20 years. It put a lot of fear, a lot of doubt into me. It takes away a lot of the determination, the desire you have to be somebody.”
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.