Around 8:30 p.m. on May 12, 1952, the Indian Room bar in El Paso, Texas, was robbed at gunpoint. According to witnesses, a man with a pistol entered the bar, locked the owner, Tiburcio Rodriguez, and a customer, Pete W. Marestein, in a restroom, and then stole $50 from the cash register and $25 from Marestein’s wallet.
Shown an in-person lineup at the jail in July 1952, both Marestein and Rodriguez identified 21-year-old Milford Bickford, Jr. as the robber. Police arrested Bickford on July 11, 1952 and charged him with robbery by assault.
Bickford’s jury trial began in September in El Paso in the 34th District Court. Rodriguez and Marestein identified Bickford in court, saying they immediately picked him out of the lineup. Three alibi witnesses testified for the defense. Mrs. LaVerne Craig and her 13-year-old son both testified that Bickford had been with them at the Crawford Theater from 6 p.m. until 10:30 p.m. on the night of the robbery. The Crawford Theater doorman testified for the defense as well, although he could not remember whether Bickford and the Crawfords were at the theater on May 12 or the following evening. On September 16, 1952, after deliberating for 15 minutes, the jury found Bickford guilty of robbery by assault. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. In early October 1952, he began serving his sentence at Ramsey Prison Farm.
In July 1954, Iowa authorities arrested murder suspect William G. Karston after an intensive manhunt through three states. Karston confessed to the robbery-murder of Wendall W. Jones, a farmer in Pulaski, Iowa. Karston, who was living in El Paso in May 1952, soon confessed to a string of other robberies, including the May 12, 1952 robbery of the Indian Room and the May 22, 1952 holdup of the Pasodale Drug Store, for which 25-year-old
had been convicted.
After seeing a photo of Karston, Rodriguez said, “I might have made a mistake. The face of William Karston looks more like the man who held me up. The eyes seem especially familiar.” Marestein had a similar reaction to the photographs, telling reporters, “I believe I made a mistake.”
Based on a re-examination of the case and results from a polygraph examination administered to Bickford, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommended a full pardon for Bickford on May 18, 1955. The Board sent a report to Governor Allan Shivers stating, “it is our opinion that Bickford is not guilty of the offense.” On March 21, 1955, Governor Shivers granted Bickford a full pardon.
In November 1957, the Texas Senate and House of Representatives adopted concurrent resolutions to permit Bickford to sue the state for damages resulting from his wrongful imprisonment. Available records do not indicate whether any such damages were awarded to Bickford.
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.