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Lying to Save One's Life... Literally. Innocent Man Gets Sent to Death Row
by the Lies of a Murderer Who Was
Trying to Avoid the Death Penalty.

Imagine this, you’re an innocent man but you are suddenly accused of murder. But through the course of the interview questioning, you find out that at the time the murder happened, you were at a fish fry. A fish fry where there are dozens of people who can vouch that you were there. Perfect, you think. This clears me. This happened to Walter McMillan, except he was not cleared. Instead, he was convicted and spent 6 years on death row before his conviction was overturned. And it was not easy. It took multiple appeals, a post conviction hearing, and a 60 minutes exposé to finally get this just result. How did this happen? Let me explain.

Lying

Lying is how this happened. And although this story is in some ways unique. It is the feature story in Bryan Stevenson’s book “Just Mercy”, and also the same titled movie starring Michael B. Jordan and Jaime Fox. This is not as uncommon as you think. 61% of exonerations on the National Registry of exonerations come from lying (perjury or false accusations). And in particular, jailhouse snitches are a big problem, which is what happened in this case.

The Fabricated Confession

Although there were dozens of alibi witnesses and no hard evidence to connect McMillan, there was the testimony of Ralph Meyers saying that he drove McMillan to the laundromat where the murder happened. But what the jurors did not know when they heard this testimony is that Meyers was coerced into saying by the police. The State had a lot of leverage on McMillan. He was facing charges for a separate murder case where there was the possibility of the death penalty. But he was told that if he testified against McMillan that not only would he avoid the death penalty, but he would have change at parole after 10 years. This is the choice he was facing. Death or 10 years.

What the defense attorney for Walter McMillan did not know at the time of trial was that there were additional recordings where Ralph Meyers is arguing with the police, saying that he didn’t want to lie. He didn’t even know McMillan. But the possibility of 10 years and out on parole sounds lot better than the electric chair and Meyers goes on to the stand and lies his ass of. It isn’t until years later when confronted with the gravity of the situation that he was sending an innocent man to death that he recanted his statement.

Contradicted Evidence

But the crazy thing is that this wasn’t enough. The prosecutor fought tooth and nail to preserve the conviction. But the nefariousness of what the prosecutor did became even more glaring as the case continued to get investigated. The only other testimony buttressing the testimony of Meyers was testimony that McMillan’s low riding truck was parked at the laundromat that day. But the problem is that #1, he didn’t get the modifications on his truck to make it a low riding truck until 6 months after the murder happened. And #2, the witness also received favors from the State for his testimony. He received money from the State following his cooperation. And conveniently, he was let out of prison on the very day that he cooperated with the police. 

So, McMillan was actually miles away at a fish fry. But it took heaven and earth to exonerate him. You would think it would be easy, but it is more difficult to combat the testimony of somebody who is lying than you think. 61% of wrongfully convicted people are there because of lying.

Takeaways for the Falsely Accused

If you are falsely accused as the result of somebody lying, what do you do? Determining the motive is incredibly important. And then discrediting the liar's testimony becomes essential. Juries behave the same as human beings. And human beings generally believe what someone says unless you give them good reason to doubt the person’s testimony. As obvious as it may seem to you that your accuser is lying, it can be much more difficult to convey the reasons to not believe the false witness to a jury. That's why it is important if you can afford a lawyer, to hire a skilled criminal defense lawyer.

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Peter Lindstrom, Esq.

Founder of Subzero Criminal Defense

I practice exclusively in the state of Minnesota. If you are falsely accused in Minnesota, contact me for a consultation. If you are falsely accused in another state or country, contact a qualified attorney in your jurisdiction. 

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