Judge: Man Who Spent 48 Years in Prison Is Innocent

Ruling allows Oklahoma man Glynn Simmons to sue for compensation
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 21, 2023 8:21 AM CST
Oklahoma Man Exonerated After 48 Years in Prison
Glynn Simmons steps out of the courthouse after Judge Amy Palumbo ruled to approve his "actual innocence" claim during a hearing at the Oklahoma County Courthouse Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023, in Oklahoma City, Okla.   (Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman via AP)

A 70-year-old Oklahoma man has been exonerated after spending more than 48 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit—longer than any other wrongfully convicted inmate in US history, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. Glynn Simmons was declared innocent by Judge Amy Palumbo of Oklahoma County District Court, the New York Times reports. "This court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the offense for which Mr Simmons was convicted, sentenced and imprisoned... was not committed by Mr Simmons," she said in her ruling Tuesday, per the AP. "It's a lesson in resilience and tenacity," Simmons said after the ruling. "Don't let nobody tell you that it can't happen, because it really can."

Simmons was freed in July after the court found that critical evidence wasn't turned over to his defense lawyers, the BBC reports. Simmons and Don Roberts, who was released on parole in 2008, were initially sentenced to death in 1975 for the 1974 murder of Carolyn Sue Rogers, who was shot during a liquor store robbery. Their sentences were reduced to life in prison in 1977. Simmons said that at the time of the robbery, he was in his home state, Louisiana, and had never been to Oklahoma. He moved to the state around a week after the crime. An 18-year-old woman who had been shot in the head during the robbery and told police she didn't remember much identified Simmons and Robert from a lineup of Black men, but she later contradicted some of her testimony.

Simmons was only in the police lineup because two brothers suspected of two other murders had attended a party at his aunt's house and police brought in everybody they could find who had been at the party, according to the exonerations registry. The finding of actual innocence will allow Simmons to sue for compensation for his decades behind bars, though Oklahoma law limits such settlements to $175,000, KFOR reports. For now, he is "living off the generosity of other people," attorney Joe Norwood says. A GoFundMe appeal for Simmons, who was diagnosed with cancer after his release, has raised more than $80,000. (More wrongful conviction stories.)

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