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Texas Man Cleared of 1981 Murder That DNA Proves He Didn’t Commit

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Testing identifies another man who later committed other crimes, including one with a similar MO 

Contact:  Alana Massie, 212.364.5983, amassie@innocenceproject.org 

(Corsicana, TX – February 11, 2013) — Randolph Arledge walked out of a Navarro County courtroom today after his 1984 murder conviction was overturned because of new DNA evidence pointing to another man who later committed other crimes, including an assault of a female with a similar MO.  The Innocence Project sought Arledge’s release after it was discovered that a DNA sample uploaded to the federal DNA database — known as the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS—came back with a match to convicted offender and Navarro County resident, David Sims.  Arledge served more than 30 years in prison before being released.

“We are grateful to Navarro County District Attorney Lowell Thompson for acting quickly on the evidence establishing Mr. Arledge’s innocence and consenting to his release,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is associated with Cardozo School of Law.  “But unfortunately this is yet another case where a witness who got a deal gave false testimony that led to the conviction of an innocent man, and based on DNA testing, there is good reason to believe the man who really committed the 1981 murder went on to commit several other terrible crimes while Mr. Arledge was incarcerated.”   

Carolyn Armstrong’s body was discovered on the morning of August 30, 1981 on a dirt road off of Highway 22 in Navarro County, Texas.  She was naked from the waist down and had been stabbed in the neck and chest over forty times.  Armstrong’s car, which was found several miles away, was searched and a number of items were collected including a black hairnet which provided the first DNA link to Sims. Additional items from the victim’s body were also tested and washings of the victim’s pubic hairs revealed a DNA profile consistent with Sims. 

“Mr. Arledge’s case is a stark reminder that access to DNA testing alone is not enough to protect those who have been wrongly convicted.  Texas’ exemplary evidence preservation law ensured that the evidence from a crime that occurred more than 30 years ago was still available for testing, said Bryce Benjet, a staff attorney with the Innocence Project.  “Similarly, Texas is one of only nine states that guarantee defendants access to search the CODIS database, which was critical to proving Mr. Arledge’s innocence and identifying another man.” 

Arledge was convicted of the crime based in large part on the testimony of Bennie Lamas and Paula Lucas, who were his two co-defendants in an armed robbery in Tennessee that occurred shortly after the Armstrong murder. Lamas, who recently recanted his testimony and admitted that he persuaded Lucas to corroborate his testimony, told the jury that Arledge confessed to the murder while they were on their way to Tennessee. Lamas, who admitted receiving favorable consideration at sentencing for his crimes in Tennessee, now states that he falsely accused Arledge of the murder because Arledge had handed Lamas a gun right before they were arrested in Tennessee and because he was told by other inmates that Arledge was having an affair with Lucas.   Despite a lack of physical evidence connecting Arledge to the crimes and alibi testimony from several witnesses, he was convicted of Armstrong’s murder on March 27, 1984 and sentenced to 99 years in prison.

“Testifying falsely in exchange for an incentive – in this case a sentence reduction – is often the last resort for a desperate prisoner,” said Benjet. “Incentivized testimony has contributed to more than 15% of the 302 DNA exonerations.  Hopefully Mr. Arledge’s case will help to inspire better protections to prevent wrongful convictions based on this inherently unreliable evidence.”    

All of the physical evidence was subjected to DNA analysis in 2011, and Arledge was excluded from every item of evidence in which a DNA profile suitable for comparison was obtained. On June 7, 2011, the Texas Department of Public Safety reported that additional DNA testing of hair taken from the hairnet found in Armstrong’s car revealed a profile suitable for comparison in CODIS which was consistent with the profile of David Sims.  More recent DNA testing was performed on the pubic hair combings taken from the victim that yielded a partial male DNA profile consistent with Sims.  

In a recorded interview conducted after the DNA match, Sims told police that, in 1981, he worked at a Long John Silver’s Restaurant near where Ms. Armstrong disappeared.  He would get off of work wearing a hairnet between 10 and 11 p.m., approximately the same time Ms. Armstrong was last seen alive.  Four years after Armstrong’s murder, Sims stabbed a woman over ninety times when she answered the door to an apartment and told Sims that the person he was looking for was not home, according to records obtained from the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office. The Dallas County attack is consistent with the “overkill” stabbing of Armstrong. The woman in this later attack survived, and Sims pled no contest to attempted murder.  Sims has an extensive criminal record that also includes an aggravated robbery in Navarro County where he beat a gas station clerk with a large stick, another robbery at a gas station and the burglary of a home. 

Arledge, who was released on parole into the Texas Department of Corrections on October 1, 1998 for the Tennessee robbery, was joined in court today by his son and daughter, who he plans to live with until he can get back on his feet.  

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The Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law, is a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustices. For more information on the Innocence Project, visit www.innocenceproject.org.