In a two part series exploring eyewitness misidentification, KFOR-NBC Oklahoma City reports on how common it is for witnesses to identify the wrong person and that it may have happened in a 1974 murder case.
The Edmond Police Department launched an investigation following the December 30, 1974, liquor store hold up by two perpetrators that left a clerk, Carolyn Sue Rogers, dead and a customer, Belinda Brown, wounded. Three days after the crime, Brown, then 18, was interviewed by detectives and a sketch artist in the hospital. Though the artist said it was difficult to get details, he still managed to put together a composite sketch.
KFOR reported that Brown would go on to pick a handful of different suspects in as many as nine police line-ups. Despite police reports indicating that a bullet and a fingerprint were recovered from the scene, the police said at trial that no fingerprints lifted from the scene of the murder.
One month after the crime took place, there were no suspects. Rogers’s sister remembers being told that all leads were dry and she would be notified if there was a break in the case. A few weeks later, police were convinced they found the suspects. According to a police spokesperson, Brown never positively identified anyone until Don Roberts and Glynn Simmons were in a physical line up at the police station. Roberts and Simmons claim that they were strangers the day of the hold up and didn’t meet for the first time until they both attended a party weeks after the murder. They were charged with first degree murder.
There was no physical evidence introduced at the preliminary hearing or trial. Brown’s identification was the only thing linking the pair to the hold up at the liquor store. Another surviving witness refused to identify the men saying she only saw the gun.
Defense attorney, Dan Murdock, was an Assistant District Attorney in Oklahoma County in 1975.
“You go with what you got, and you let a jury decide.” Murdock said. “You know your feelings and attitudes and opinions on things change over the years. Now looking back on it, there are things I’d have done different, sure.”
“(The jury) relied on eyewitness testimony. But now we’ve seen that’s not always the best (evidence.)” Murdock said.
Brown’s testimony resulted in convictions that put both men on death row. Roberts served 33 years before he was paroled in 2008 and Simmons is still in prison.
In addition to Murdock’s doubts, Rogers’ sister also believes in the men’s innocence and hopes Simmons will be released. Bob Mildfelt has written a letter in support of Simmons saying, “I remember your case very well. I realize the evidence was [the] thing against you…. Your case has troubled me these many years because of the many questions unanswered by the evidence we had.”
Simmons was denied parole last month and won’t be eligible again for three more years.
A decade after the case was first reviewed, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater is now looking through available police reports, the preliminary hearing and trail transcript.