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Glynn Simmons reads the court order declaring his innocence on Tuesday as his attorneys and loved ones look on at the Oklahoma County Courthouse in Oklahoma City. (Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman/AP)

US: Man declared innocent after 48 years in prison

December 22, 2023

By Dakin Andone, CNN

(CNN) — An Oklahoma judge on Tuesday declared innocent a man who spent 48 years in prison for a murder he did not commit – believed to be the longest amount of time served by anyone wrongfully convicted in the United States.

“This is a day we’ve been waiting on for a long, long time. It finally came,” Glynn Simmons, 70, told reporters, according to local news outlet KFOR, after the hearing where an Oklahoma County District Court judge issued an order formally declaring him innocent.

“We can say justice was done today, finally,” he said. “And I’m happy.”

Simmons served 48 years, one month and 18 days following his conviction, earning him a grim distinction: He served the longest wrongful incarceration of any exoneree in the US, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. The average length of a wrongful incarceration is just over nine years, per the registry, which tracks and catalogs exonerations going back to 1989.

“Obviously, we’re just very happy,” Joe Norwood, an attorney for Simmons, told CNN in an interview Thursday. “He felt vindicated to have his name … cleared, that he is innocent and didn’t do this. I’m just real happy that all the work paid off for him.”

Simmons was released on bond in July, when the judge vacated the 1975 judgment and sentence at the request of the Oklahoma County District Attorney, who said in a news release her office found evidence was withheld from Simmons’ defense attorneys — a so-called Brady violation.

In September, District Attorney Vicki Behenna announced she would not seek a retrial, pointing, in part, to a lack of physical evidence.

Simmons’ four-plus decade ordeal officially ended Tuesday with Judge Amy Palumbo’s amended order dismissing the case against him with prejudice.

“This Court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the offense for which Mr. Simmons was convicted, sentenced and imprisoned in the case at hand, including any lesser included offenses, was not committed by Mr. Simmons,” Palumbo stated in the order.

CNN has reached out to the prosecutor for comment on the judge’s declaration of innocence.

State law limits compensation to $175,000

Simmons was just 22 when he and another man were convicted of murdering Carolyn Sue Rogers during a liquor store robbery on December 30, 1974, according to the district attorney’s office and the National Registry of Exonerations.

The prosecution’s case at trial depended on the testimony of an 18-year-old woman who was shot in the head during the robbery, the Registry said.

Interviewed by police days later, the woman said she couldn’t remember much. But by the time of the trial, the woman said she had identified Simmons and his co-defendant in a lineup, the Registry said. She testified she had identified no other suspects when, in fact, she had identified four other individuals during eight separate lineups, per the Registry.

None of them were Simmons or his co-defendant, Norwood said.

At trial, Simmons testified he wasn’t even in Oklahoma at the time of the robbery: He was in Harvey, Louisiana, he said, playing pool. Several witnesses also testified that they saw him in Harvey that day and the day after, the Registry said.

Ultimately, Simmons and his co-defendant were convicted, the district attorney’s office news release said, and, at first, sentenced to death. Their sentences were later modified to life in prison ultimately as the result of a Supreme Court ruling that found the death penalty was unconstitutional due to arbitrary and uneven application, the Registry said.

Simmons’ co-defendant was released on parole in 2008, the district attorney’s office said.

Through the years, Simmons maintained his innocence, the Registry said. Eventually, a private investigator located a report that the 18-year-old witness had identified other subjects and had considered her identifications overnight before deciding she was confident in them. That report was never shared with Simmons’ defense attorneys at the time of his trial, Norwood and the Registry said.

Now, Simmons and his attorneys are hopeful he can receive some compensation for the time he was wrongfully incarcerated, Norwood told CNN.

Tuesday’s order, he said, allows them to begin the process of seeking that compensation which, in Oklahoma, is capped at $175,000. But there is no guarantee, Norwood added, and it’s possible they will have to fight for it in court.

In the meantime, Simmons is seeking financial help through a GoFundMe – his only source of income after nearly five decades during which he was unable to gain skills he could use to make a living, Norwood said. On top of that, Simmons has been diagnosed with stage four cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy.

“Between his medical condition and being 70 years old and (having) the ability to provide for himself robbed from him,” Norwood said, “he needs help from people.”

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