HOUSTON – A man who has spent the past four decades in prison for a crime he says he never committed was back in court Wednesday, surrounded by family and advocates, hoping for his exoneration.
In 1983, Darius Elam was sentenced to life in prison following the robbery and murder of Richard “Rick” Bowen, whose body was found on the campus of Rice University.
Elam never faced a murder charge in the case, but was convicted of aggravated robbery, and has spent the last 39 years behind bars for the crime, of which he maintains his innocence.
Elam, who is from Chicago, came to Houston to attend Texas Southern University on a track scholarship. He said he was at the Galleria, where he worked, when he ran into a friend who offered to buy him a pair of shoes.
Elam said, unbeknownst to him, the credit card used to purchase the shoes belonged to Bowen, who had been robbed and shot in the back of the head just a few days prior.
Investigators said a yellow piece of paper found inside the victim’s car had Elam’s right index fingerprint on it. In addition, they said a jailhouse informant said Elam confessed to the crime.
Those factors were not credible, advocates said.
Elam said the yellow piece of paper - which was a major deciding factor in the case - was on him when he was arrested, leaving him to believe that it was planted as evidence, and later, that paper was supposedly destroyed by the Houston Police Department. In addition, the jailhouse informant later recanted his statement.
In 2014, DNA testing ruled out Elam as a contributor to any solid evidence found in the case.
Elam’s supporters and legal team believe, because of those issues, he should either be freed or given a new trial.
“They claimed that they had a sheet of paper with his fingerprint on it in the car of the man that got killed. It’s sort of an unbelievable story but he would not have been convicted without that,” Atty. Gary Udashen said. “You have unbelievable jailhouse informants that are shown to be not credible, not only in Darius’ case, but jailhouse informants have caused many, many innocent people to be in prison across the country and it’s been a problem that we’ve tried to address in Texas.”
Udashen says the next step is for Elam’s legal team to file proposed findings for Judge Josh Hill, who denied Elam’s application for Writ of Habeas Corpus regarding the DNA exclusion and upheld the original guilty conviction in January of this year. Hill will then pass his own findings on to the Court of Criminal Appeals, which will then render the final decision. This process could take months, or even a couple of years.
Tammie Lang Campbell, founder of the Honey Brown Hope Foundation and the person who is, in large part, the reason the case has made progress today, says it is time for people to listen and make the right decision.
“They can’t say they don’t know anymore. Darius laid everything out. You have questionable manufactured evidence, you’ve got a recanted statement, you’ve got DNA exclusion of Darius Elam and a third unidentified person’s DNA. You’ve got all of these things,” Campbell said. “Darius was an outstanding person that had no criminal record, a TSU student on a track scholarship and a family man. This is what happens to us - our people - Black people, brown people, on a regular basis in terms of being wrongfully convicted.”