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Crime News Wrongful Convictions

After Spending 48 Years in Prison, the Longest-Serving Wrongly Incarcerated Inmate is Exonerated

“It’s a lesson in resilience and tenacity," Glynn Simmons said at a press conference after he was exonerated. He added, “Don’t let nobody tell you that it (exoneration) can’t happen, because it really can."

By Gina Salamone
A judge strikes a gavel as two people look on

A man who spent more than 48 years in prison was declared innocent this week of the murder he was convicted of, making him the longest serving inmate to be exonerated. 

Glynn Simmons, 71, had been convicted in 1975 of killing a clerk at a liquor store in Edmond, Oklahoma the year before. On Tuesday, he was cleared in the case.

RELATED: Nearly 30 Years After Falsely Confessing To Rape, Robbery, California Man Is Finally Exonerated

“This court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the offense for which Mr. Simmons was convicted, sentenced and imprisoned... was not committed by Mr. Simmons,” Oklahoma County District Judge Amy Palumbo said in her ruling, according to the Associated Press.

Why was Glynn Simmons released from prison?

Simmons was released from prison July on bond after prosecutors determined that key evidence in the case wasn't revealed to his defense lawyers. In a status hearing held by Palumbo at the time, the judge ruled that the murder judgment and sentence would be vacated and a new trial would be set. 

District Attorney Vicki Zemp Behenna had asked the court to vacate the judgment and sentence in April. "After a thorough review of the case in preparation for an evidentiary hearing, it was discovered that a lineup and certain police reports available to the prosecutors at the time were not turned over to Simmons’ defense team," the Oklahoma County District Attorney's Office stated in a July press release. "While the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma found that this violation did not prejudice Simmons’ defense, DA Behenna believed it did inhibit his ability to receive a fair trial."

Behenna said in a statement: "The role of a prosecutor is to ensure the defendant’s right to a fair trial. That includes providing all evidence the prosecution has to the defense before trial. Unfortunately, that did not happen in Mr. Simmons’ case, so the state confessed the Brady violation and the Judge vacated Mr. Simmons’ judgment and sentence."

Will Glynn Simmons be retried for murder?

After Simmons' conviction was vacated in July, the case was evaluated for retrial. In September, the Oklahoma County District Court Attorney asked that the case against Simmons be dismissed. "When considering whether to pursue the case against Simmons again, the District Attorney determined the state will not be able to meet its burden at trial and prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Simmons was responsible" for the murder he was convicted of, the DA's office stated.

The reasons given by the DA for not seeking a retrial include: There no longer being any physical evidence; the detectives who originally investigated the case being dead or not available; one of the surviving victims having died; and the defense alleging that their alternate suspect was identified in one of the lineups.

 RELATED: True Crime Podcast Investigation Helps Free Two Men Wrongfully Convicted Of Murder

What happened on the night of the murder that Glynn Simmons was ultimately cleared of? 

On December 30, 1974, just before 9:20 p.m., a pair of armed men went into the Edmond Liquor Store in Oklahoma. Carolyn Sue Rogers, a 30-year-old store clerk, was shot in the head by one of the robbers while answering the store phone, according to The National Registry of Exonerations. The other armed man told a different clerk, Norma Hankins, to open the cash register, and he then took out the money. 

Hankins heard another gunshot while picking up cash that fell on the floor. The men left the shop by the time Hankins stood up. An 18-year-old witness, Belinda Brown, was shot in the head but survived. Rogers was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Simmons, who was 22 at the time of the liquor store shooting and robbery, and 21-year-old Don Roberts, were arrested on February 8, 1975 and charged with capital murder in Rogers' fatal shooting. The pair were convicted later that year and sentenced to death. But in 1977, their sentences were cut to life in prison after a series of U.S. Supreme Court rulings dealing with capital punishment, the AP reported. Roberts was let out on parole in 2008.

How much time did Glynn Simmons spend in prison?

Simmons had spent 48 years, one month and 18 days in prison for his wrongful conviction when he released on July 22, 2023.

What did Glynn Simmons say about his exoneration?

Simmons — who had said he was in Louisiana at the time of Rogers' 1974 killing and has maintained his innocence ever since — said at a press conference after the December ruling: “It’s a lesson in resilience and tenacity." He added, according to the AP, “Don’t let nobody tell you that it (exoneration) can’t happen, because it really can."

Simmons' defense lawyer Joe Norwood said that the recent ruling would make his client eligible to receive up to $175,000 in compensation from Oklahoma for the wrongful conviction. It would also allow Simmons to file a federal lawsuit against Oklahoma City and authorities involved in the arrest, the attorney added, according to the AP.

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