After spending two decades behind bars for a crime they did not commit, a judge finally granted two Tulsa County men post-conviction relief. Malcolm Scott and De’Marchoe Carpenter were convicted over 20 years ago for the 1994 murder of Karen Summers. The 19-year-old was standing among a group of people outside a house party in September of that year when she was killed in a drive-by shooting. The men, both 18-years-old at the time, were convicted of first-degree murder, along with other charges in relation to the crime, and were sentenced to life and an additional 170 years in prison.
Their findings of actual innocence were largely based on the work of Eric Cullen, a Tulsa-based private investigator who started working on the case in 2006. Cullen discovered new evidence supporting Scott and Carpenter’s claims of innocence, including the confessions of three men who admitted to Summers’ murder and recantations from eyewitnesses who has testified against the pair during trial.
At a preliminary hearing, a man named Michael Wilson, who was charged with murder in the Summers case, testified that he had held the gun for Carpenter after the shooting. That testimony resulted in Wilson’s murder charge being reduced to accessory after the fact. Wilson was later convicted for a 1995 murder, and was sentenced to death. Billy Don Alverson and Richard Harjo, who was 16 at the time, were convicted as his co-defendants. Harjo was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, and Alverson received the death penalty and was executed in 2011. At a hearing in January, Harjo testified that Wilson had shot at a crowd of people in retaliation to being shot days before by a member of the Hoover Crips, whose gang members were among the crowd, and that police investigating the murder of Summers never contacted him.
In February and March of 2014, Scott and Carpenter submitted applications for post-conviction relief, claiming that after their trials, witnesses disclosed new evidence that proves they were not involved in the 1994 murder. That evidence includes video and confessions from Wilson’s execution-bed, where he claimed to be the actual shooter in the Summers case. After the Oklahoma Innocence Project accepted the case in 2011, they recorded a video interview with Wilson, in which he told a lawyer that he fired the shots that killed Summers. Wilson also admitted that Alverson and Harjo accompanied him in a vehicle. The video was played during a January hearing regarding the relief applications. During the hearing, attorneys representing Scott and Carpenter also argued that their clients’ trials were based heavily on two eyewitnesses’ testimonies that they later recanted in signed affidavits.
That hearing was held on January 29, in which District Judge Sharon Holmes scheduled a ruling for her decision regarding Scott and Carpenter’s post-conviction relief applications. She stated that by March 1, after she received proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law, she would reach a ruling and scheduled it for Wednesday, April 13. During that hearing, however, Holmes postponed the ruling and rescheduled it for May 4. But after years of waiting and several postponements, Holmes finally set Scott and Carpenter free on Monday, May 9.
Despite prosecutors saying that they plan to appeal Holmes’ ruling, Scott and Carpenter’s overturned convictions are a victory for all. Not only are the men now free after wrongfully spending 20 years behind bars, but Cullen can also celebrate the win after working on the case for 10 years at no cost. It was one of the first cases he and his company accepted, and also the longest. Both men, unbeknownst to each other, responded to pamphlets that Cullen sent to Oklahoma prisons in 2006 that advertised his post-conviction relief work. Believing in their innocence, Cullen was intrigued by their case, stating that both men gave detailed descriptions of their innocence and even included information such as who he could talk to that would confirm their stories. In addition, Scott and Carpenter’s case is the first successful exoneration for the Oklahoma Innocence Project.