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Two Louisiana Death Row Prisoners Freed

Three days after Christmas, 2000, Michael Ray Graham walked off death row at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. He was wearing a prison issue denim jacket and carried all of his worldly possessions in two manila envelopes tucked under one arm.

After 14 years on death row and with the state dismissing all charges against him because of "a total lack of credible evidence" linking him to the crime for which he was convicted, all that the 37yearold Mr. Graham received in compensation was a $10 check from the prison for transportation.

Graham hopped a Greyhound bus to his home in Roanoke, Virginia. The ticket cost $127. One of his lawyers, Michele Fournet, paid for it and gave him another $100 walkin' around money to boot.

Albert Ronnie Burrell, 45, was convicted, in a separate trial, of the same crime as Graham, the 1986 murder of an elderly couple in northern Louisiana. The state also dismissed all charges against Burrell and he walked out of Angola with a. stateissue jacket and a $10 check on January 2, 2001. Burrell, who is retarded and cannot read or write, came within 17 days of execution in 1996.

Graham's and Burrell's cases are examples of serious prosecutorial misconduct, their lawyers say. With no physical evidence linking either to the crime, the two men were convicted largely on the testimony of a jailhouse snitch, Olan Wayne Brantley, who an unnamed law enforcement official told the New York Times was known as "Lyin' Wayne."

Lyin' Wayne testified at both trials that both men, while in jail, had confessed to killing the elderly couple. No other witnesses put them near the scene of the killings, nor did ballistics tests of their guns link them to the deaths.

A district judge found, among other things, that the prosecution failed to disclose to defense attorneys that a plea agreement had been made with Lyin' Wayne Brantley and that Mr. Brantley had previously spent time in several mental hospitals and had been found to be mentally incompetent.

The judge also noted that the prosecutor in the case, Dan Grady, had given an affidavit saying that he viewed the case against Mr. Graham and Mr. Burrell as "so weak that the case should never have been brought to the grand jury."

Source: New York Times

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