Darryl Burton was convicted in 1985 of capital murder and sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole for 50 years. Two weeks ago, he was released from the Jefferson Correctional Center in Missouri. He was released after a judge ruled his 1984 trial was constitutionally flawed.
Burton said he hopes his case will convince the public that this country is jailing innocent people. “I come to prison thinking that is an isolated incident, I’m the only person this has ever happened to,” Burton said. “I thought, justice just don’t goof up like this, not in American justice, or what I term American injustice. But it does happen in more cases than we know.” Burton said he believes there are thousands of other innocent people in U.S. prisons.
Burton, of St. Louis, now 46 years old, was convicted despite the lack of physical evidence or any motive tying him to the fatal gas station shooting in St. Louis in 1984. He was convicted solely on the testimony of two men who claimed they saw the shooting.
One of these witnesses, Claudex Simmons, lied during Burton’s trial, having testified that Simmons had been convicted of a crime only one time. The truth about Simmons’ criminal record was that he had been convicted of at least seven felonies and five misdemeanors. For that reason, for failure to disclosed Simmons’s complete criminal history to the jury, Cole County Circuit Judge Richard G. Callahan ruled that Burton’s conviction was a violation of due process of law, as guaranteed by the U. S. Constitution. In that ruling, Judge Cole gave the prosecution 15 days within which to decide whether to put Burton on trial again. Burton was released when the prosecutors in St. Louis decided not to try Burton again.
When informed of Burton’s release, the warden told Burton the news in person and offered to have Burton driven back to his home in St. Louis. “I told him I’d walk to St. Louis if what you’re saying is for real. It was just surreal. You wait on these days, you wait and wonder and see other cases on the news. For me, I just said ‘my day will come,’” Burton said.
His attorneys and a clergyman who had befriended him drove him to his family in St. Louis. Attorney Cheryl Pilate joined Burton in hoping the case would point out the difficulty of exonerating innocent inmates. Many wrongful convictions are won on ‘snitch’ evidence from criminals seeking deals and weak eyewitness evidence, she said. “His story is dramatic yet all too common,” Pilate said. “There are hundreds if not thousands of people just like him still sitting in prison.”
Burton maintained his innocence from the beginning. He tried to get help. He wrote an estimated 600 to 700 letters and filed numerous appeals on his own. In 2000, his attorneys began working on the case with the help of Centurion Ministries, a national organization that provided investigators and money to help exonerate Burton.
Burton said he is not bitter but said prosecutors should not be allowed to offer “snitches’ deals for testimony. “The system we have in arguably the best country on Earth is locking up its citizens because someone wants to get a conviction,” Burton said. “It becomes a game. And you’re dealing with people’s lives…We can do better than what we have done with our system of justice. We have to.”
This situation definitely points out the inherent problems with informant testimony and certainly a need for vigorous legal defense from an experienced and competent criminal defense lawyer. There are many issues to be concerned with when someone is charged with a crime, which is why I invite anyone in that position to visit my website at http://www.oklahomacriminallawoffice.com to learn all they can to protect their rights.