4 Prisoners Facing Executions or Serving Extreme Jail Sentences Who Very Well May Be Innocent
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Jeltz was shown a photo array of six black men and asked: "After viewing the photographs did you recognize an individual that was responsible for this crime?" Jeltz said, "No."
"I cannot identify the suspect at this time," she said, signing her statement at 11:26 AM.
(Jeltz's friend, 23-year-old Karen Thornton, also described the shooter as wearing a "black turtle neck sweater and dark pants or stone wash jeans." According to her, though, he was also wearing a skull cap. Thorton's statement did not make it into the courtroom, however.)
Yet, when it came time for the trial, the case against McKinney hinged almost entirely on eyewitness testimony from the same people whose descriptions of the killer didn't match McKinney: Lee and Jeltz. It helped that during the trial, Jeltz's story changed: Not only did she identify him as the shooter, she also described his outfit -- specifically, the gold vest -- from the photograph. (Later, upon being cross-examined, she admitted that the prosecutors had shown her the vest that morning.)
Timothy McKinney's trial began on his 25th birthday. It lasted just two days. According to court documents, "the defense presented no evidence at trial" -- an incredible statement, given its implications. As attorneys working on McKinney's appeal later argued, "the decision to put on no defense cannot conceivably be characterized as a reasonable strategic choice in this case." Perhaps one of the defense team's most important efforts -- the introduction of an expert witness on wrongful identifications, the leading factor behind wrongful convictions -- was denied by the court.
On July 14, 1999, McKinney was convicted of premeditated, first-degree murder, and of attempted second degree murder. He was sentenced to death.
In the years since his trial, evidence that never made it into court has raised alarming -- and long overdue -- questions about McKinney's death sentence. In addition to the absurdly contradictory eyewitness statements, according to recent appellate briefs, "police dispatch logs … not produced until long after the trial confirmed that, for Mr. McKinney to have been responsible for the shooting, a lengthy series of events must have all occurred between 2:01 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. (when the crime was committed), rather than between 12:30 am. and 2:35 a.m., as the prosecution asserted at trial." Among them: driving to his girlfriend's house, four miles away, arguing with her for 20 minutes, and driving back. Officer Lee's claim that McKinney was the only patron who clashed with the guards that night has also been proven false: Seven other people who were there have since testified that multiple confrontations had occurred that night between patrons and the officers.
Hundreds of people were said to have been at the club that night. 150 have been identified. Of those, a third reportedly have police records. Attorneys for McKinney believe they know the true identity of the person who killed Williams that night. But above all, they argue that McKinney did not get a fair trial, that he was railroaded to the death house on false and circumstantial evidence.
McKinney has been on death row for ten years. He still insists upon his innocence.
To learn more about Timothy McKinney, go here.
Anthony McKinney (no relation to Timothy McKinney) has spent 31 years in prison for the killing of a security guard in 1978, when he was 18 years old. In the past few years, journalism students at Northwestern University have re-investigated his case, uncovering incontrovertible proof of his innocence. "After more than three years of reporting, involving nine reporting teams, we became convinced that Anthony had been wrongly convicted and that several other men were responsible for the crime," according to David Protess, director of the Medill Innocence Project, who calls the McKinney case "about the most tragic I've ever seen."