A Belated Farewell to The Thin Blue Line's Randall Dale Adams, "The First Innocent Man"

RandallDaleAdams.jpg
Via.
Randall Dale Adams's mugshot for the crime he did not commit
"It's an Everyman's story. It's the story of someone slipping through the cracks -- if you like, a nonfiction Twilight Zone episode." That was filmmaker Errol Morris talking, in 1988, about his documentary The Thin Blue Line -- otherwise known as the film that proved Randall Dale Adams did not kill Dallas Police officer Robert Wood in 1976, despite his having been convicted of the crime and sentenced to die in '77.

Errol Morris did not come to Dallas in 1985 to spring Adams; he didn't even know who he was. The filmmaker had arrived instead to profile Dr. James Grigson, the local psychiatrist known as "Dr. Death," because his expert testimony on behalf of the District Attorney's Office all but guaranteed a death sentence. That's what Adams received, thanks to Grigson, who told the jury he'd kill again if ever released. But Randall told the director: "I'm innocent." Well, of course he was; who on Death Row isn't? But Morris looked into it: "History, properly considered, is a mystery," the director told me in '04 when speaking about The Thin Blue Line. And he discovered: Adams wasn't lying. This is what we wrote in 2007 in summation:
The documentary alleged that [Dallas County District Attorney Henry] Wade's first assistant, Doug Mulder, withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense. Adams' attorney maintained Mulder manipulated key witnesses. Mulder denied that and said he'd simply "forgotten" to turn over a witness statement pointing to another man. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ordered Dallas County to grant a new trial, and then-District Attorney John Vance dropped the charges.
The real cop-killer, David Harris, told the Dallas Times Herald and District Court Judge Larry Baraka shortly after the film's release that he'd lied about Adams's involvement in the shooting. It took a while for D.A. John Vance to come around, but, finally, Adams was released in the spring of '89. Two years later Adams wrote a book about his case in 1991, but finally left Texas a few years later to lead "a quiet life in Columbus, Ohio." And that is where he died in October, at the age of 61. Few knew of his quiet farewell till an obit appeared in yesterday's paper, buried in the Metro section; the Associated Press picks up the tale today.

Adams wasn't the first whose wrongful conviction in Dallas County became national news; before Randall Dale Adams, Errol Morris and The Thin Blue Line, there was Lenell Jeter, Morley Safer and 60 Minutes . And God know he wouldn't be the last, as the parade of exonerees from the Dallas County courthouse reminds every few months. But as Adams's longtime attorney -- Randy Schaffer of Houston, who took the case pro bono in '82 -- tells the AP: "Within the context of the modern criminal justice system as we know it, he was the first innocent man, the first death row inmate exonerated based on innocence, even though in the court's opinion he was exonerated on the state's use of false testimony."
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23 comments
juddmatthews
juddmatthews like.author.displayName 1 Like

I was locked up with Randy Adams on the Eastham unit of the TDCJ. He was transferred there after leaving death row. We first met on E Line in the day room. I sat next to him to watch TV and he started up a conversation with me. He shared his big paper bag of popcorn wit me. He would take a large paper bag put in commissary popcorn, corn chips and sprinkle in hot sauce and shake it up. He was a good guy and generous. We became fast friends. After a couple weeks he started telling me about his case. In prison you here " I didn't do it" all the time. I believed Randy. I just couldn't see him hurting anyone. When Harold Morris came to the unit warden Waldren called Randy to his office and instructed Randy that Mr. Morris didn't need to know what goes on on Eastham. Randy said he assured him he was only interested in his case. In those days Eastham was known as the House of Pain. Anyway I just want everyone to know that Randy was a great guy and very intelligent. He was the best chess player I've ever met.

gil03
gil03

@juddmatthews Thanks so much for telling us about your friend, Randy Adams.  If only all of those who have been wrongfully convicted could have a film made about them, that would result in their release.

Lyndeljo
Lyndeljo

To the family of Randall Dale Adams, RIP.  I only happened upon the documentary, The Thin Blue Line, today and I was so compelled, I had to watch it twice.  This was such a miscarriage of justice that it makes my heart ache.  I hope he had a loving family at the time of his death.

Kerry Max Cook
Kerry Max Cook like.author.displayName 1 Like

My name is Kerry Max Cook. I am not here to talk about what ittook for me to survive twenty-two years on death row as an innocentperson.  I am here to talk about a man I met while I was on Texas death row also innocent, my friend, Randall Dale Adams.

It was the summer of 1978 when I met a young Randall Dale Adams on cellblock J-21 --the original death row "wing" where those exiled under a sentence ofdeath were assigned "Ad. Seg," or Administrative Segregation, asprison officials classify it. 

Death row was a lot of things, but most of all, it was a wild and crazy place, ahate-factory and an austere human repository warehousing every conceivablemental and emotional disorder known to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual ofMental Disorders (DSM).

As an example, Randall and I would be talking and, without warning, violence eruptedfrom somewhere around us. Once, I witnessed a quick scuffle and then heard thedull thud of a heavy body falling solidly to the concrete floor, met by aguard’s shrill screams, “FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!”  The body of death row inmate Edward King lay prostrate gasping his last breath with a chicken bone protruding from his chest, mortally wounded by a fellow death row inmate - - his best friend. By the time thenurses arrived, Edward King needed only the stale, dirty State-issued dingysheet to wrap and remove him to await the Walker County coroner’s office.

Randall Dale Adams clearly didn’t belong there, despite having come, at one time, less than 72 hours away fromexecution.  He didn’t suffer froman anti-social, schizophrenic personality disorder, indigenous to a diseasedand dangerous mind gone AWOL. Randall Dale Adams was no killer.

Simply put, Randall Dale Adams was a square, an innocent American citizen who fellvictim to the antics of a troubled teenager named David Ray Harris. Randall,through twist of fate, got caught in the cross hairs of an overzealous Texasprosecutor. Randall was a naive, quiet and unassuming, kind man who cared aboutothers. Had he not agreed to give David Harris a ride that fateful night, Iwould not have met Randall on death row and officer Robert W. Wood would stillbe alive.

The last time I saw Randall was when we met in Austin and testified before the 77thTexas Legislature.

Randall’s ordeal with Texas officials and the fight to clear his name and be recognizedwas so grueling and intense; he left public life and moved back to his hometownof Columbus, Ohio where he died last October.

In representing Randall in this moment of grief, I think if Randall could haveleft you with something, it would be this: 

“We rightfully legislate laws to honor victims of unspeakable crimes.  Youdidn’t recognize me in life, and maybe you won’t recognize me in death, but Istill believe in you, even though your politics sometimes prevents you frombelieving in me. You don’t have to remember me, but please, for the sake ofthose who follow after me, please remember my story….”

gil03
gil03

@Kerry Max Cook Having seen "The Thin Blue Line," your taking the time to reveal some of your's and Randy's experiences.  You both seem to be highly intelligent, principled people.  Although you said:  "I am not here to talk about what ittook for me to survive twenty-two years on death row as an innocent person.", I would certainly be interested in hearing YOUR story!

juddmatthews
juddmatthews

@Kerry Max Cook I really enjoyed your comment. I too knew Randy. We met on the Eastham unit and became good friends. He was a great guy and yes obviously no killer. When his case was commuted to life it also got other death row inmates sentences commuted. One of them was also on Eastham. I don't remember his full name but we all called him BJ. You might remember him. It was sad that Randy passed but at least it wasn't at the hands of the state of Texas.

Loretta
Loretta

Hello Mr. Cook,My heart goes out to you and Mr. Adams.  However, after I read the comment from "theteam."  they put their thoughts right on the mark---and I found it very difficult to say my feelings any better.  Mr. Cook, you are a very bright and sensitive human being----------AND I WILL REMEMBER YOUR STORY.I send a special hug to you !!  

Theteam
Theteam

Mr. Cook, on behalf of the (VOTS) victims of the system having closed/cleared cases in regards to non-DNA, non-Death Row matters, please accept our deepest synpathy regarding the loss of a dear friend.

Despite the fact that the justice system chose to separate the victims into two distinct groups based on the methods in which one's innocence or guilt can be proven, we all know, that in our hearts and minds, we are human beings. As human beings we are comprised of many shades & shapes with various religious & political affiliations and it will take a group effort to right any and all wrongs.    

Furthermore, we pray that you are allowed to heal from the travesty of being a victim of rogue justice. Please don't hesitate to contact me/us for any reason 24/7/365. *In closing - Rest in Peace Mr. Adams. Sir, you will not be forgotten.   

Kerry Max Cook
Kerry Max Cook

I find your post to my article regarding the passing of Randall Dale Adams very touching. You clearly have a profound understanding of victims and how they can sometimes come in all kinds of unrecognized different shape, forms, colors, and sizes.

,,,thank you very much for your post. If I can ever help you, please don't hesitate to contact me at 214 995 8833.

lakeside8
lakeside8

Robert,

I take issue with one of your points. I'm no defender of The Dallas Morning News, but when you say "buried in the Metro section," you are pushing an untruth. I used to work for the DMN, in Metro, and part of my job was writing editorial obits. They all ran in Metro. In the entire time I was there, I was only twice required to write specific obits, and never was one "buried." They always appear in approximately the same position in Metro.

Bigjondaniel
Bigjondaniel

Let me get this straight-Government bureaucrat are ignorant and inefficient...Legislators are all in the pockets of lobbyists...Judges are activists...Jurors are dumb and easily swayed...Attorneys are corrupt, self-serving sharks..But the parts of this apparatus work well enough that Capital Punishment is OK???Really?If you are an anti-Government Tea Party supporter,you can not be for Capital Punishment

Guest
Guest

It's amazing how many prosecutors simply "forget" to turn over key evidence in trials.

Thank goodness we have a state bar system and federal court system that routinely sanctions attorneys for that kind of illegal behavior (in case it doesn't come through, this last sentence is dripping with sarcasm).

Willie
Willie

It's easy to yack on about the corruption of our judicial system, and in fact, as we know, the corruption is widespread across the country, but in the end I'm proud of the fact that Dallas County has the courage and guts to look into these cases and correct the injustices.  Obviously it doesn't make up for the time these people have spent locked up, nor for those who are innocent but for whom justice wasn't served, but it's a start.

juddmatthews
juddmatthews

@Willie No in one in Dallas looked into Randy Dale Adams' case. It took a documentary film maker to uncover much of the truth.

sgeorgiadis
sgeorgiadis

Next step should be to prosecute Doug Mulder for his part in the destruction he caused in this man's life, knowingly and willfully.   Maybe he could be Judge Ken Anderson's roomie and both put away until their demise.  To bring down this arrogant criminal would give future prosecutors a second thought before they hide evidence to send a man to prison.

Kerry Max Cook
Kerry Max Cook

I agree. I am proud of Dallas County and how it has lead the entire Country in freeing those wrongly arrested, tried and convicted for crimes they didn't commit. Craig Watkins is my hero.

Justin Julian
Justin Julian

Amen to this.  Does anyone -really- believe that this problem is unique to Dallas?  The solution is, and we have a lot to be proud of in regards to that.

Plexiglass
Plexiglass

Schaffer's point: A burgeoning indie film industry allowed the documentary to be made and distributed, forcing Henry Wade's police state tyranny to deal with the injustice. Further advances in internet, DNA analysis, legal access, etc. followed.

David Harris was one scary (chillingly casual) individual as depicted in the documentary.

scottindallas
scottindallas

Randy Schaffer of Houston, who took the case pro bono in '82 -- tells the AP: "Within the context of the modern criminal justice system as we know it, he was the first innocent man."

How much you wanna bet Randy Schaffer is white?  How many innocent native Americans and Blacks have been wrongly convicted?  This is a stupid statement, full of bigotry, ignorance and ethnocentric bias.  We too often forget the plight of others who aren't so like us.  They are treated worse than we treat the worst among our own.  Let us always keep that in mind.

also edit "Few knew till of his quiet farewell till an obit appeared..."

Robert Wilonsky
Robert Wilonsky

Thanks for the catch. And I think you're being hard on the attorney. The entire quote, if you read the AP piece, reads as follows: "Within the context of the modern criminal justice system as we know it, he was the first innocent man, the first death row inmate exonerated based on innocence, even though in the court's opinion he was exonerated on the state's use of false testimony."

Also: If you read the AP piece, it mentions that Adams "helped paved the way for a 2009 Texas law that gives exonerees $80,000 for every year they spent in prison, although Adams received no payment himself." In other words, he's the beginning of the modern day parade of exonerees -- the way they're treated, thought of and talked about upon release.

scottindallas
scottindallas

I know I am, I am trying to be hard on all of us, get us to really think about who we consider "we" and "us." That, it seems is the great question of faith, "who is my neighbor?"

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