On January 5, 1987, 64-year-old Adeline Wilford was found dead in her home in Easton, Maryland, the victim of a murder after she tried to stop a burglary in process. Wilford was stabbed to death and her home had been “ransacked,” according to police, with her purse, wallet, and some jewelry stolen.
Police determined that whoever killed her must have entered her home through a window in the laundry room, as they found palm prints on the glass and the washing machine. Underneath the window on the inside were also bits of shrubbery similar to what was outside the window.
For 13 years, police searched for Wilford’s killer or killers, compiling a list of more than two dozen suspects. They attempted to match the palm prints to find the perpetrators and “performed 72 manual comparisons” over the years, according to the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project (MAIP). It wasn’t until January 2000, however, when a witness came forward to collect the $25,000 reward money. The witness, Beverly Haddaway, claimed David Faulkner, Jonathan Smith, and Ray Andrews were the ones who murdered Wilford. She claimed that she saw three men leaving a corn field a few miles away from Wilford’s home the day of the murder and that one of them – Smith – was wearing a bloody shirt.
The palm print didn’t match any of the men’s, but coerced confessions led to a plea agreement with Andrews and the convictions of Faulkner and Smith. Andrews agreed to 10 years in prison for a burglary charge in exchange for his testimony against Faulkner and Smith, who were convicted of murder.
When MAIP began working with Smith and Faulkner in 2011, they filed Public Information Act requests to obtain police recordings of conversations between police and Haddaway.
“These recordings revealed that Haddaway demanded that the state dismiss unrelated drug charges against her grandson in exchange for her testimony against Faulkner and Smith. The state, in fact, dismissed the charges three days before Andrews’s trial was scheduled to begin,” MAIP reported last year when Faulkner and Smith’s convictions were overturned.
Haddaway received $10,000 of the reward money before she testified against the men and later sued Wilford’s family for the remaining $15,000 after Faulkner and Smith were convicted.
In 2013, the two convicted men filed to re-open post-conviction proceedings based on the police recordings of Haddaway. MAIP also requested a palm print comparison.
“In March 2014, the state’s attorney acknowledged that the prints matched an offender in the database, but refused to disclose the identity for a year. When the identity was finally revealed in 2015, lawyers discovered that the prints matched those of Ty Anthony Brooks, who was incarcerated at the time and had previously served prison time for a similar burglary in which he was alleged to have assaulted an elderly woman within months of Wilford’s murder,” MAIP reported.
Not only that, but it turned out Brooks was one of the alternative suspects in the original case.
The prosecutor and judge tried to minimize the palm-print evidence, and it took until April 2020 for Faulkner and Smith were granted new trials. Even with the new evidence, and a lack of evidence suggesting Faulkner and Smith new Brooks, the two men have remained in jail awaiting their new trials. Finally, after a lengthy battle, Faulkner was released on January 29, 2021. His new trial is scheduled for May 2021. Smith is still incarcerated.
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