On September 14, 1938, three men robbed a filling station owned by Ben Pritchard in Cherokee County, Texas. The men came away from the robbery with $3.80. Two local men, Samuel Curbow (also referenced as Samuel Curbo) and J.F. Strickland (also referenced as J.C. Strickland) had recently been arrested for stealing a car, although it later came to light that only Strickland, and not Curbow, had been involved in the car theft. Due to their supposed involvement in this recent theft, police had Ben Pritchard and his wife look at Curbow and Strickland to see if they were the culprits. The Pritchards identified the men as two of the robbers.
When Curbow arrived for his trial in February 1939, none of his alibi witnesses were present, and he was informed that officers had been unable to locate them. Curbow was also informed that he would not have a court-appointed attorney, despite requesting one, because no attorney was available. Curbow was tried without an attorney and the jury quickly returned a guilty verdict. Strickland was convicted as well. Curbow was sentenced to thirty years in prison and Strickland was sentenced to five.
Throughout the arrest and trial, Curbow maintained his innocence, and his claims did not go unheard by Leon Halbert, the deputy sheriff of Cherokee County. As Curbow and Strickland labored in prison, Halbert re-investigated the robbery of Ben Pritchard’s filling station. He obtained information indicating that the three men who had robbed the filling station, two of whom closely resembled Curbow and Strickland, were in prison in Oklahoma. Halbert traveled to the two Oklahoma prisons where the three men – Richard Johnson, Noah Tucker, and Tom Hollis - were incarcerated, and he obtained confessions from the men. Halbert then brought Ben Pritchard and his wife to see these Oklahoma prisoners, and both the Pritchards confirmed that Johnson, Tucker, and Hollis were the men who had robbed their filling station.
Both Curbow and Strickland were pardoned by Texas Governor W. Lee O’Daniel on March 25, 1940, after spending eighteen months in prison.
- 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.