Randall Dale Adams was handed a death penalty for a murder he had nothing to do with. But it took 12 years and a film for him to be freed….
The nightmare began for Randall Dale Adams on 27 November 1976.
Then 28, he’d left his hometown, Ohio, USA, in search of work. En route, he stopped over in Dallas, Texas. But his car ran out of fuel.
He began walking, then 16-year-old David Ray Harris pulled up in a stolen car, offering Adams a lift. He had his dad’s pistol and shotgun in the car boot.
The pair seemed to hit it off and spent the day drinking together and seeing a few drive-by films.
By 10pm Harris had dropped Adams back to his motel. Adams thought that was the last he’d see of the teen…
Then shortly after midnight Dallas police officer, Robert Wood, stopped a car for a traffic violation, but was shot dead for his trouble.
An investigation soon led police to Harris. He’d reportedly bragged to friends about shooting someone. But when questioned, he denied pulling the trigger.
Instead he placed the blame on Adams. Randall Dale Adams was quickly arrested and charged with murder. He protested his innocence, but Harris argued Adams had not only been in the car, he’d been driving it and was the shooter.
In 1977 Adams was convicted of the murder. He was sentenced to death by lethal injection and his execution was scheduled for 8 May 1979.
But three days before, the United States Supreme Court ordered a stay on the grounds that jurors, who were uneasy about the death penalty, had been excluded during jury selection.
Adam’s death sentence was reduced to life in prison.
Years on in 1985, director Errol Morris arrived in Dallas working on a new TV documentary. He met with Adam’s lawyer, Randy Schaffer, and the two began piecing together the truth behind the police officer’s murder.
By now, Harris had had numerous run-ins with police. He was even on death row for the unrelated murder of Mark Mays. It’d occurred after Harris tried to abduct the man’s girlfriend.
Between them they gathered evidence proving Randall Dale Adam’s innocence. Morris even interviewed Adams and Harris for his documentary.
The Thin Blue Line finally aired in 1988. It resulted in a public outcry with many believing Adams had been wrongfully convicted.
They believed prosecutors had gone after Adams instead of Harris, because Harris was only 16 at the time – too young to be executed under Texas law.
It prompted a judge to grant another hearing. In 1989 the appeals court ruled Adams was entitled to a new trial because of the perjured testimony.
Harris even recanted his previous testimony. He reportedly admitted that Adams hadn’t even been in the car at the time of the murder – although he never actually admitted guilt himself and was never charged.
Three weeks later, Randall Dale Adams was released. He’d spent 12 years in prison with part of that time spent on death row.
It was reported that Adams never received any compensation for the years he was wrongfully incarcerated. As his case was dismissed, not pardoned, he didn’t qualify for it.
‘I don’t like that word bitterness,’ he reportedly said. ‘I’m just glad to be alive.’
Adams settled in his hometown Ohio again and adjusted to life as a free man. Eventually he became a passionate advocate for suspension of the death penalty.
In a speech to the Texas Legislature, he said, ‘The fact that it took twelve and a half years and a movie to prove my innocence should scare the hell out of everyone in this room, and if it doesn’t, then that scares the hell out of me.’
In 2004 Harris was executed for the murder of Mark Mays. Years later in 2011, Adams died aged 61 from a brain tumour.
Despite spending his last 22 years a free man, many still argue that Adams never got the justice he truly deserved for the nightmare he suffered…