When I decided to review each of the 450 lethal injections in Texas, now 451, I naturally suspected Cameron Todd Willingham, Ernest Cantu, and Carlos DeLuna would be among the cases I studied carefully. They are frequently mentioned as examples of people who may have been innocent, though plunged by Texas.
I had never heard of Robert Nelson Drew.
It's not that no one ever wrote of Robert Nelson Drew. You can read about his case here, here, and here. Also here and here. Drew just somehow never made it to the Pantheon of likely innocents convicted by the State. Life passed him by, and now Death turns a deaf ear. Even his transition was punctuated with dismissiveness. The judge who signed his death warrant added a smiley face.
The "Sincerely" was also a nice touch.
Jeffrey Mays was brutally stabbed to death. There's no doubt about that. He had been traveling with a friend, Bee Landrum, and two hitchhikers, Robert Drew and Ernest Puralewski. Mays had picked up Drew and Puralewski at separate locations, offering rides in exchange for the sharing of travel expenses. Until that day, Drew had never met any of the others.
Based almost exclusively on the testimony of Bee Landrum, Drew was convicted of the stabbing and sentenced to death. How can a jury fail to convict, afterall, given the gut-wrenching testimony of an eyewitness who could very easily himself have been the victim? We all know eyewitness testimony is the gold standard for evidence.
Unfortunately for the prosecution, there was absolutely no physical evidence tying Drew to the crime. In fact, what little forensic data existed pointed to Drew's co-defendant, Ernest Puralewski. The murder weapon, a buck knife with a 3" blade, belonged to Puralewski and was on his person when he was arrested separately and far away from Drew.
Unfortunately for the prosecution, Puralewski pled guilty to the murder for a lesser sentence. Though Puralewski did not know Drew beyond the events of that day, he unequivocally cleared Drew of any involvement in the murder.
That leaves Bee Landrum's eyewitness testimony, and only Bee Landrum's eyewitness testimony. Unfortunately for the prosecution, the police made a tape recording of their initial interview with him. Those bastards kept that recording from the jury and from the defense for five freakin' years, but it eventually came out. In that recording, Bee Landrum admitted he had not seen the killing. He passed a polygraph test to that effect.
After the trial, Bee recanted his testimony, then recanted his recantation.
And so there you have it. Robert Nelson Drew didn't murder Jeffrey Mayes, and now we all know it, assuming we care to look. Drew even deprived the Pro Death Penalty camp their standard "Well, he committed lots of other heinous crimes, so he only got what he deserved" fall-back argument. It turns out that Drew, unlike most of the people I am learning of, had no prior record.
Somehow, the vaunted Texas judicial system failed to find any problems with this case. The jury whiffed, as did the appellate court system, as did the Board of Pardons and Paroles, as did then Governor Ann Richards. They all failed in their job to protect the innocent and insure justice was done, and not one of them paid a price for it.
On 2 August 1994, Robert Nelson Drew paid with his life.
30 Mar 2010
30 Mar 2010