Release from prison is a great relief, and that is especially so for wrongfully convicted persons. The future, however, is wrought with difficulties, obstacles, and prejudice. For Chris Conover, it was a burden that overwhelmed him, pushing him to take his life 12 years after his release.
Conover, 60, was convicted in a drug-related double murder in Randallstown, Maryland, in the early morning hours of October 20, 1984, two white men and a black man went into the home of Charles “Squeaky” Jordan, who was involved in the city’s heroin trade. Jordan, his wife, and step-daughter were shot execution style.
Jordan’s wife survived, and she subsequently identified Conover as resembling one of the white attackers and picked him out of a line up. An FBI agent testified that two hairs found at the scene belonged to Conover. Based upon the identification and hair evidence, Conover was convicted.
The Innocence Project took his case, and in May 2001, it received DNA evidence that proved the hairs did not come from Conover. Prosecutors agreed the conviction was undermined and agreed to it being vacated. They, however, insisted he was guilty and were intent on a retrial. Conover agreed in 2003 to an Alford plea, which allowed him to maintain innocence while conceding a guilty conviction could be obtained on the evidence, to the armed robbery charge.
“I know this is probably a letdown for [Nina Morrison former director of the Innocence Project], “said Conover. “But I didn’t want to risk a jury trial. I know that I’ve already walked into one courtroom and been wrongfully convicted.”
The plea left doubts about Conover and made him ineligible for compensation for the 18 years spent in prison. Once released, he married his high school sweetheart, who stuck behind him through the entire ordeal, and moved to North Carolina. He started a pet sitting business, but he was still struggling.
His wife, Sue Conover, said he suffered from depression and anxiety, and panic attacks that also occurred while in prison the last two years of his life. “He knew that, to get help, he needed to commit himself” to inpatient treatment, she said. “But he didn’t want to be locked up again. He would do anything for anybody he just couldn’t do it for himself…he couldn’t fight his demons any longer. He felt like he was disappointing everybody, and he couldn’t live like that.”
When he took his own life in February 16, 2015, his attorneys were preparing to ask Maryland’s Governor for a pardon. They will continue that effort. His attorneys, Lee Rubin and Kevin Ranlett, said they were shocked to learn of his suicide. Both attorneys worked with the Innocence Project to free Conover. The Innocence Project issued a statement saying it was mourning the loss of its client.
Sources: The Baltimore Sun
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