"If his mother had named him John, he wouldn't be in prison today," says
defense attorney Richard Price, referring to his former client Terence Garner.
In "An Ordinary Crime," award-winning FRONTLINE producer Ofra Bikel
investigates the bizarre case of Terence Garner. It is a story that seems fit
for a novel, with unforgettable characters, plot twists, and timeless themes.
Only it isn't fiction. The facts of the story are all too real.
As crimes go, the armed robbery of the Quality Finance Company on April 25,
1997, in Johnston County, N.C., was serious -- but ordinary. It
ended in the near-fatal shooting of one of the three victims; shot in the chest
and head, she survived but lost an eye.
It seemed to be an open-and-shut case. Police apprehended a suspect --
Kendrick Henderson -- who named two accomplices: Keith Riddick and Riddick's
cousin from New York, a man Henderson knew only by his first name, Terrance.
All the men were in their 20s.
It is at this point that the story takes a bizarre turn.
Following Henderson's apprehension, there was a brief investigation. Police
searched their files and found Terence Garner, a 16-year-old who had a
misdemeanor charge for carrying drug paraphernalia. Officers put Garner's photo
in a lineup, and Charles Woodard, the office manager of the company that was
robbed, identified Garner as the shooter. Garner was arrested and charged,
but he has always professed his innocence.
The two confessed co-perpetrators of the robbery, Kendrick Henderson
and Keith Riddick, also said Garner was the wrong man. Against his lawyer's
advice, Henderson testified that Garner was not involved and that he never knew
him before he met him in prison. Riddick, however, had been offered a plea
bargain by the prosecution: if Riddick testified against Garner he would
receive great consideration during sentencing. According to Riddick, he was
given a choice between five years and 50 years -- an offer, he said, that
he could not refuse.
"An Ordinary Crime" details several elements of the case leading up to the
trial, including Riddick's plea bargain, his failed polygraph test,
and how investigators never tried to find the "Terence" who Henderson stated at the outset was Riddick's cousin from New York.
At Garner's January 1998 trial, the prosecution's case rested almost entirely on eyewitness testimony. Alice Wise, the woman who had lost her eye in the shooting, had identified Garner as the shooter
during a bond hearing in court. She told the jury, "The last thing I saw with
my two eyes was [Garner's] face."
Another person at the scene of the robbery -- customer Bertha Miller -- was not convinced Garner was the shooter. She testified she could not positively
identify who the shooter was, but later said it was not Garner. "I practically
helped raise Terence Garner, and two weeks before this happened Terence Garner had spent the weekend with my son at my house, and I know him. It was not him."
But, in accordance with his plea bargain, Riddick testified that Garner was the shooter. The fact that Riddick had a cousin named Terrance never came up.
Asked about Kendrick Henderson's testimony, against his lawyer's advice, that Garner wasn't
involved, Johnston County District Attorney Tom Lock, who prosecuted the case, says that he didn't find Henderson's testimony credible. "I frankly don't believe anything [Henderson] says."
At the end of the trial, Terence Garner was found guilty and sentenced to 32 to 43 years in prison.
"The question is, why would Henderson lie?" asks Richard Rosen, professor of law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "Why would he
get up there and lie to save somebody he doesn't know?"
This is one of the many unanswered questions, strange twists, and peculiar aspects of the case which only became more apparent in the weeks following the trial. Two days after the trial, based on information given to them by Kendrick Henderson, detectives in Wayne County apprehended Riddick's cousin from New York, Terrance Deloach, and he confessed to the crime. Johnston County D.A. Tom Lock called a news conference. But then, within a few hours, Deloach recanted his confession after additional interrogation by Johnston County law enforcement officers.
At a hearing before the trial judge, Knox V. Jenkins, Jr., Garner's
lawyer asked for a new trial. The judge denied it. The defense next appealed to the State Court of Appeals. It also denied a new trial. And the North Carolina Supreme Court refused to review the case. People following the Garner case were disappointed and angry.
"Every time you turn around, there's something about this case that just isn't right," says Raleigh News & Observer reporter Anne Saker.
"And that's not a moral judgment, that's according to the law books. When you
look at trial court procedure, there's just something not right about this."
"In this case one could understand the jury's verdict," says producer Bikel. "But what happened after the sentence is baffling. Why didn't Terence Garner get another trial? How could they uphold the verdict knowing what they knew? It's very difficult to understand."
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