Charles Wakefield – Freed After 35 Years
Charles Wakefield is a man who had the misfortune of being implicated in a murder nine months after the murder was committed. The implication had to do with eyewitness testimony that was motivated by clemency for another prisoner. Modern findings show that eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. Nevertheless, this shaky testimony was enough to get Mr. Wakefield convicted for murder and sentenced to death. He spent two years on death row, at which point he was given the option to have his sentence converted to life without parole. Charles was an exemplary prisoner and there were many reasons to give him parole. However, these reasons were not deemed to be enough and he remained in jail for an additional thirty-three years. Finally, he was granted parole.
Charles Wakefield Case Summary
In 1975, Lieutenant Frank Looper and his father, Rufus Looper, were shot and killed behind their house in South Carolina. Several African American men from the neighborhood were picked up and interrogated in depth. Charles Wakefield was one of the men in that group, but he was released without charges.
Nine months after the unsolved murders, a woman came forward claiming to be an eyewitness to the Looper murder. Mrs. McIntyre testified against Mr. Wakefield. Her testimony was tainted by the fact that her son-in-law was facing a long sentence for another crime. 4 months after that Wyatt Earp Harper, an 18-year-old who was in custody for another crime stated that he was the lookout for the Looper murder.
Without a shred of physical evidence, Charles Wakefield was convicted and sentenced to death for the Looper murders. Coincidentally, Wyatt Earp Harper and Mrs. McIntyre's son received short sentences.
In 1977, all death row prisoners in South Carolina were given the opportunity to convert their sentences to life without parole. Mr. Wakefield, fearful that he would again receive the death penalty for a crime he did not commit, accepted the life sentence.
There were many good reasons to grant Mr. Wakefield parole, including twelve years in a county jail where he worked outside the prison and could have walked away any time, and he had parole hearings in 1997 and 2001. Each time, the board granted him parole. On each occasion the former Police Chief Bridges, who had worked on the case, came forward and gave inflammatory statements which forced the Board to rescind the parole before Mr. Wakefield was ever released from prison.
In a hearing in Greenville, South Carolina in 2005, the main witness against Mr. Wakefield recanted his original testimony. Wyatt Earp Harper, who had originally claimed to be the lookout for the old murder case, testified that he was offered a chance to get out of jail if he would testify against Mr. Wakefield. He further testified that he did not know Mr. Wakefield and he apologized to him and his family.
Charles Wakefield Paroled
Charles Wakefield walked out of Kirkland correctional institution waving his parole papers. His pro bono lawyer, Eric Gottlieb, was there with a camera man ready to record Charles' first words as a free man. Claudia Whitman, who had investigated his case, and worked on his parole and many other aspects of his case was there. Also present were members of his family. The president of Christ Central Institute, where Mr. Wakefield will be finishing up his degree in religious studies was there. All these people, along with a former Greenville law enforcement officer were all there to greet him.
Mr. Wakefield, after thanking God, the people who worked on this case, his family, and the victims' family, who had repeatedly come to parole hearings leading for his release, read a prepared statement.
"This is a bittersweet moment at best. After thirty-five years of confinement, today I am free. But I still remain convicted and am now on parole for a crime that I did not commit. As always, I will continue to pursue and challenge my conviction. I am an innocent man."
Read more about Charles Wakefield here.