(April 30, 2020 – Annapolis, Maryland) The Maryland Court of Appeals has reversed the 2001 murder convictions of David Ronald Faulkner and Jonathan David Smith, Sr., and granted both men writs of actual innocence after nearly 20 years in prison. The decision is based on palm print evidence found at the crime scene matching an alternative suspect, as well as critical evidence about the reliability of informant testimony that was withheld from the defense.
Both Faulkner and Smith, who are represented by the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project and the Innocence Project, have maintained their innocence over their two decades of incarceration. Their cases will now be sent back to the Circuit Court for Talbot County with orders for a new trial.
“Mr. Smith has spent nearly two decades fighting to prove his innocence and the Court’s decision to grant his petition demonstrates the strength of the new evidence,” said Susan Friedman, the Innocence Project attorney representing Smith. “We are thrilled with the Court’s decision and hope that Mr. Smith and Mr. Faulkner will be reunited with their families as soon as possible.”
“We have had physical evidence proving Mr. Faulkner’s innocence for six years, and it has fallen on deaf ears,” said Shawn Armbrust, the Executive Director of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project. “We are grateful that the Court of Appeals has unanimously recognized its significance.”
Faulkner and Smith were convicted of the 1987 murder of 64-year-old Adeline Wilford in 2001 and sentenced to life in prison. A third co-defendant, Ray Earl Andrews, Sr., who was 16 at the time of the crime, was sentenced to 10 years for burglary in exchange for testifying against the two older men. There was no physical evidence linking the three men to the crime. The case had gone cold for 13 years until Andrews agreed to cooperate after a witness claimed to have seen the three men fleeing from the crime. The witness, Beverly Haddaway, alleged that she saw the three young men walk out of a corn field approximately a few miles away from the Wilford home on the afternoon of the murder, and that Smith had blood on his shirt.
In 2011 and 2012, lawyers from the Innocence Project and the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project filed Public Information Act requests. For the first time, the Maryland State Police disclosed police recordings of conversations between Haddaway and Maryland State Police Corporal John Bollinger. These recordings revealed that Haddaway demanded that the state dismiss unrelated drug charges against her grandson in exchange for her testimony against Faulkner and Smith. The state, in fact, dismissed the charges three days before Andrews’s trial was scheduled to begin.
In 2013, Faulkner and Smith filed motions to reopen their post-conviction proceedings based on these recordings and filed a motion for post-conviction latent print comparison for previously unidentified palm prints on the sill of an open window and inside Wilford’s home. In March 2014, the state’s attorney acknowledged that the prints matched an offender in the database, but refused to disclose the identity for a year. When the identity was finally revealed in 2015, lawyers discovered that the prints matched those of Ty Anthony Brooks, who was incarcerated at the time and had previously served prison time for a similar burglary in which he was alleged to have assaulted an elderly woman within months of Wilford’s murder.
Evidentiary hearings were held on this new evidence in 2016 and 2018 in the Circuit Court for Talbot County. On April 27, 2020, in a unanimous opinion by the Court of Appeals, Faulkner’s and Smith’s petitions for writs of actual innocence were granted.
Faulkner is represented by the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. Smith is represented by the Innocence Project and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP.