Two of three men convicted in a grisly 1987 murder on Maryland’s Eastern Shore have asked a judge to appoint Attorney General Brian E. Frosh to take over the case after state prosecutors disclosed that new handprint evidence points to a different suspect in the case.
David Ronald Faulkner and Jonathan David Smith Sr. were sentenced to life and Ray Earl Andrews Sr. to 10 years in prison in the Jan. 5, 1987, house burglary and stabbing death of Easton resident Adeline Wilford, 64.
In February, after the Maryland Court of Appeals unsealed the case, prosecutors disclosed that palm prints — recovered from the sill of an open window and inside the utility room of Wilford’s home — had been found a year earlier to match those of a Maryland inmate, Ty Anthony Brooks.
Brooks, 47, was convicted in a similar break-in and assault of an elderly woman that occurred in Easton three months before Wilford’s killing and was accused of other burglaries, according to police records and attorneys.
“That window is no different than the knife that was used to murder this woman,” Bryce Benjet, a staff attorney for the Innocence Project, argued in a hearing this month before Talbot County Circuit Court Judge Stephen H. Kehoe, whom the men are asking to reopen their case and declare them not guilty.
“No reasonable juror who saw the palm print — knowing where it was left and by whom it was left — would have convicted Jonathan Smith or David Faulkner,” Benjet said.
Although Brooks was an early suspect, his prints were not added to a state database until 2012, and they weren’t tested or matched in the Wilford case until February 2014. Prosecutors then opposed releasing Brooks’s name, later explaining that they overlooked files identifying him as a suspect. The fact was pointed out by the defense after it successfully asked Maryland’s high court to open the record.
In a recent interview with Maryland State Police, Brooks, who was sent back to prison in 2013 for theft, denied ever seeing Wilford, being in her house or knowing or participating in a break-in with the defendants, according to a transcript filed June 11 by Smith in a bid for exoneration.
“Never seen this house or that lady. In my life,” Brooks said in the transcript.
Jane Tolar, an Easton lawyer who Brooks told police represented his family, said she was unable to comment. His family members also declined to comment.
Prosecutor Joseph S. Michael said he believed that even if information about Brooks is admissable as evidence, it would make him a potential co-defendant at most and not exonerate the others.
“There is no way to tell when those palm prints were left at that location,” Michael said.
The match of the palm print is the latest twist in a difficult investigation. No physical evidence linked the defendants to the crime, which went uncharged for 13 years as investigators sifted through leads and tested more than 300 sets of fingerprints.
A break came when Andrews, 16 at the time of the crime, agreed to testify against the two older men, Faulkner and Smith. He reached a plea bargain that came after a witness in 1994 and 2000 told police that years before, she had seen the three emerge from a cornfield with blood on their clothes.
In a conversation recorded by police, Smith confessed to the witness, Beverly Haddaway, who was his aunt and a convicted felon. Smith and Andrews then confessed to police in statements that appeared to confirm Haddaway’s account but had some discrepancies with the crime scene, according to court records and attorneys.
Smith asserted his innocence at trial and appealed his March 2001 conviction, saying that his confession was coerced and that Haddaway, who was also a suspect, orchestrated the investigation.
After the trial, prosecutors with the office of Talbot County State’s Attorney Scott G. Patterson acknowledged that DNA evidence recovered from the victim’s fingernails did not belong to Wilford or the three defendants after earlier telling Smith’s defense that the results matched the victim. A fuller DNA profile could not be developed to implicate any suspect.
Then, in 2013, defense attorneys said they discovered a police recording that prosecutors should have disclosed. In it, Haddaway, an informant with a felony record of fencing stolen property, demanded as a condition before her testimony in Smith’s and Faulkner’s trials in 2001 that prosecutors clear her grandson of unrelated narcotics charges. The grandson’s case was dropped. Haddaway died in 2008.
Michael, a Washington County deputy state’s attorney whom Patterson asked to handle the case after he recused himself because his conduct was questioned, said defendants could have obtained the Haddaway recording or tracked down Brooks and his prints before trial, had their chance to cross-examine Haddaway and have had similar arguments rejected by appeals courts.
“The state has not found to trust convicted murderers,” Michael said. “They had their chance. There has to be finality in these things.”
On Thursday, the defendants asked Kehoe to assign the case to a member of Frosh’s office as an independent special prosecutor, saying Michael shares Patterson’s conflict as his appointee.
The delay in disclosing Brooks’s palm-print match also suggests that Michael “lacks the capacity or resources that this case requires” and “creates the appearance that [he] may be acting to protect the State’s convictions at the expense of the interests of justice,” said the pair’s attorneys, who include the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project and pro bono counsel from the Washington offices of the Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; Latham & Watkins; and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom law firms.
Michael declined to comment. In February, he wrote that prosecutors withheld Brooks’s name out of “the necessity of confidentiality in conducting a criminal investigation, and the hope of having the completed DNA analysis.”
Forensic scientists have said they have not found DNA evidence in quantities large enough to likely yield meaningful results.
David Nitkin, a spokesman for Frosh’s office, would say only that it is “exceptionally rare” for a designee of the office to be appointed a special prosecutor, which apparently has not happened in decades.