Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Terence Briscoe

Other Harris County, Texas exonerations
On May 12, 2007, two Black men sat down in a booth at a Waffle House restaurant on Almeda Genoa Road in Houston, Texas, and ate a meal. While they were eating, 46-year-old Karon Blackmon, a waitress, noticed one of them doodling on a napkin as she left the bill on the table. When the men finished, one of the men picked up the receipt and headed to the cash register. There, he pulled out a handgun, pointed it at Blackmon’s head and demanded money. The other man—the doodler—went behind the counter, opened the cash register, and took out money, which he put into a backpack. Both men fled.

Blackmon and another waitress, 31-year-old Deborah Farrar, told police they believed they could identify the robbers. Fifty-two-year-old Debora Williams, the cook, told police she ran out and called 911 as soon as the first man drew his gun. She said she did not believe she could identify the suspects.

Police lifted fingerprints from the cash register, as well as a syrup pitcher and ketchup bottle on the table where the men had eaten. The napkin also was preserved.

On June 20, 2007, the same Waffle House was robbed again. Blackmon was working as a waitress again. Forty-year-old Nina Christian was working as the cook. She later told police that while Blackmon was outside smoking, a man came in and said he wanted to place an order to go. The man was on his cell phone and then went into the bathroom.

At about this time, Blackmon came back from her cigarette break. Christian told Blackmon about the order to go. Meanwhile, the man had returned from the bathroom and was standing at the counter. Blackmon later told police she thought the man looked familiar. Moments later, another man came into the restaurant carrying a backpack. Blackmon said she then recognized both men as the May 12 robbers. She ran out of the restaurant and called 911.

The man who had placed the order to go then drew a handgun. He pointed it at Christian, and then put it on the counter. He opened the cash register, took out the money, and put it into his backpack. The second suspect then left the restaurant. As the first suspect was about to leave, he returned to the counter and grabbed the handgun. He then left.

Police subsequently said that a Crime Stoppers tip reported that Terence Briscoe, who was 19 years old, was involved in both robberies. On September 1, 2007, police put together a photographic lineup and showed it to Christian. She identified Briscoe as the man with the gun during the June robbery.

On September 5, 2007, Blackmon viewed a photographic lineup. She identified Briscoe as the gunman who carried the backpack in both robberies. Blackmon told police that she had heard through the neighborhood that the robberies were committed by two brothers.

On September 18, 2007, Briscoe was arrested and charged with both robberies. He denied he was involved, and claimed he was living with his uncle in Dickinson, Texas.

On September 22, 2007, after police discovered that Briscoe had a brother—23-year-old Bruce Leadon—another photographic lineup was created. That day, Christian identified Leadon as the man who said he wanted to place the order to go during the June 20 robbery. Later that day, Blackmon identified Leadon as the man she saw doodling on the napkin and who opened the cash register in the May robbery. Blackmon also identified Leadon as the man who said he wanted to place an order to go on June 20.

On September 24, 2007, Leadon was arrested and charged with two counts of aggravated robbery.

In October 2008, Leadon went to trial in Harris County Criminal District Court.

Leadon’s stepfather, girlfriend, cousin, grandmother, and his mother all testified that Leadon was elsewhere at the time of the crimes.

Blackmon testified and identified Leadon as the doodler on May 12, and the man who wanted to place a to-go order on June 20. She said she was 100 percent positive that Leadon assisted the gunman in both robberies. Christian also identified Leadon as the man who wanted to place a to-go order on June 20.

Blackmon also testified that she had signed out a new receipt book at the beginning of the shift and that only her fingerprints or the fingerprints of customers would be on the receipts.

Farrar testified that after the May robbery, she picked up the receipt to see what the suspects had ordered before the robbery. Farrar said that Blackmon also picked it up and looked at it. Farrar said that Williams, the cook, may have looked at it as well.

Jerry Werner, from the Houston Police Department’s identification division, testified that he had examined the latent fingerprints. He said that two prints from the ketchup bottle, one from the syrup bottle and two from the cash register keys did not have sufficient characteristics to compare to anyone else.

Werner said he examined three prints from the receipt, but only one was suitable for comparison. He said he excluded Leadon from the print, which was submitted to the Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS). He said there were no hits, although Blackmon and Christian both had prior convictions, so their prints were in the system. The print was not compared to Williams or Farrar.

The defense argued that the unidentified print belonged to the real robber.

On October 8, 2008, the jury convicted Leadon of two counts of aggravated armed robbery. He was sentenced to 60 years in prison.

On September 25, 2009, Briscoe, who had been insisting he was innocent, agreed to plead guilty, heavily influenced by the substantial sentence imposed on his brother. However, when he appeared for his pre-sentencing interview, Briscoe told the probation officer that he was innocent. As a result, Briscoe was allowed to withdraw his guilty plea.

On January 14, 2010, the Texas Court of Appeals for the First District upheld Leadon’s convictions.

While Briscoe’s case was pending, the Houston police department asked Ron Smith and Associates, a Mississippi-based private forensics firm that regularly handled forensic requests for the department, to review the fingerprint evidence. On January 19, 2010, Smith and Associates reported that the unidentified print on the receipt had been identified as belonging to 21-year-old Demarkco Phillips.

Assistant District Attorney Shannon Davis asked police to reopen the case because Phillips looked remarkably similar to Terence Briscoe. In March, Blackmon was shown a photographic lineup and she tentatively identified Phillips as the gunman. Farrar viewed the same lineup and said that Phillips looked “familiar.”

On March 29, 2010, Ron Smith and Associates reported that the unidentified print from the cash register had been examined. The report said that Blackmon, Farrar, Williams as well as three other men who were known to associate with Demarkco Phillips had been excluded.

On April 26, 2010, the prosecution dismissed the charges against Briscoe. The following day, attorney Joseph Varela was appointed to represent Leadon. In July 2010, Varela filed a state law petition for a writ of habeas corpus. For procedural reasons, the writs were voluntarily dismissed and then refiled in September 2010.

On May 26, 2011, Forensic Science Associates, a private DNA testing firm, issued a report of its analysis of DNA found on the napkin. The report said that Briscoe, Leadon, and Phillips were excluded as the source of the DNA.

On June 2, 2011, the prosecution consented to Leadon being released on bond.

On October 4, 2011, Phillips pled guilty to a reduced charge of robbery and was sentenced to two years in prison.

Little was done on Leadon’s habeas case, however. In August 2016, attorney Mark Rubal was appointed to take over the handling of the writ. In 2022, Rubal filed amended writ applications. The writ cited the fingerprint and DNA evidence, and also noted that a comparison of Leadon’s handwriting with the doodled napkin showed that Leadon’s handwriting did “not appear to match” the handwriting on the napkin.

In July 2022, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted the writ and vacated both of Leadon’s convictions. The court declined to find Leadon actually innocent. The appeals court agreed with the trial court judge that Leadon “has established by a preponderance of the evidence that he would not have been convicted if the new scientific evidence had been presented at trial.”

On October 5, 2022, the prosecution dismissed the charges against Leadon.

– Maurice Possley

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date: 1/30/2023
Last Updated: 1/30/2023
Most Serious Crime:Robbery
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2007
Sentence:Not sentenced
Age at the date of reported crime:19
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No