Glen Edward Chapman spent nearly 14 years on death row for a crime he did not commit after police detectives gave false testimony at his trial. Chapman was nearly executed because the state hid evidence that could have proven his innocence — including a credible confession by another man.
Chapman was sentenced to death in November 1994 for the murders of 28-year-old Tenene Yvette Conley and 31-year-old Betty Jean Ramseur in Hickory, N.C. Conley was a hosiery mill worker and Ramseur was a former nurse; both were suspected prostitutes and drug addicts at the time of their deaths.
The two women died a few weeks apart in 1992. Conley’s body was found in the basement of a vacant rental house on August 15, and Ramseur’s body was discovered in the crawl space of a burned-down abandoned house on August 22. While Conley was found less than twelve hours after her death, Ramseur’s death had occurred weeks prior to police finding her body.
- Race: African American
- County: Catawba
- Date of Crime: July-August 1992
- Victims: Betty Jean Ramseur, White, Age 31; Tenene Yvette Conley, African American, Age 28
- Conviction Date: November 10, 1994
- Exoneration Date: April 2, 2008
- Years incarcerated: 15
- Years on death row: Nearly 14
- Real Perpetrator Found: No
- Errors: Police hid evidence and changed witness statements in order to make a case against him.The lead investigator gave false testimony during trial, and Chapman’s defense counsel failed to uncover the most basic facts.
Although the state initially concluded that Conley had died as a result from manual strangulation, a forensic pathologist later found that Conley had no life-threatening injuries and had likely died of a cocaine overdose. Ramseur’s cause of death was found to be a blunt-trauma injury to the head.
Chapman was charged with Ramseur’s murder in December 1992. A homeless man claimed to have seen an African American male and white female around the location of where Ramseur’s body was later found.
Almost six months later, in August 1993, Chapman was charged in Conley’s death. Chapman’s DNA matched a semen sample taken from her body. In addition to the DNA, witnesses claimed to have last seen Conley alive with Chapman, and Chapman had previously worked on the property where her body was found. The charges came even though it appeared that Conley had not been murdered, but instead died of a drug overdose.
Chapman admitted that he had known and smoked crack with Ramseur, and that he had consensual sex with Conley, however he denied all other accusations by the witnesses. He said he had never seen one of the witnesses until the day the man testified.
It was later revealed that police had changed or withheld various witness statements to make the evidence better fit the case against Chapman. During his trial, the jury never heard about the confession of another man or the results of a photo lineup in which another man was positively identified. Beyond this, the state withheld witness statements that pointed to Chapman’s innocence—including statements that indicated Conley had been seen alive after the day she’d supposedly been killed.
Because the police were preoccupied with making a case against Chapman, they failed to investigate suspects who had clear motives along with similar crimes in the area that had occurred during the same time period. Ramseur’s murder remains unsolved.
Chapman had a joint trial for both cases, was convicted on two counts of first-degree murder, and was sentenced to death in the span of just two-and-a-half weeks in November 1994.
His trial attorneys, Robert Adams and Thomas Portwood, did virtually no investigation into Chapman’s case. The North Carolina State Bar later disciplined Adams for alcohol abuse, while Portwood was removed from a different death row case and ordered to seek treatment in relation to alcoholism. Before he died of an alcohol-related illness, Portwood admitted to drinking heavily during trials in which his clients faced the death penalty.
Chapman was released from death row on April 2, 2008, after Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin ordered a new trial. “The notion that a defendant can be put to death when no crime in fact occurred is troubling at best,” Ervin wrote in the order that freed Chapman. In granting Chapman a new trial, Ervin also cited withheld evidence, “lost, misplaced or destroyed” documents, the use of weak, circumstantial evidence, false testimony by the lead investigator and ineffective assistance of defense counsel. Prosecutors elected not to re-try Chapman and he was set free.
Despite the definitive evidence that Chapman is innocent, he has yet to be granted a pardon of innocence or receive any compensation for the years he spent awaiting his execution. In North Carolina, those who are wrongfully convicted are entitled to $50,000 per year in compensation up to $750,000— but only if the governor grants them a pardon of innocence. There has been no response to his request for a pardon, which was filed in 2009.
During his 15 years of incarceration, Chapman’s two young sons grew up without a father and his wife died from liver cancer. Chapman has spent much of the time since his release working in a minimum-wage job and relying on the support of his adopted hometown of Asheville, where yearly fundraisers have been held in his honor. He travels around the state speaking about his exoneration and the many flaws in the criminal justice system that led to his conviction. “I can forgive,” Chapman says. “That doesn’t mean I have to forget.”