The Touchstone, Vol. X, No. 3, Summer 2000


72 HOURS AWAY FROM EXECUTION
Danny Yeager Interviews Randall Dale Adams

Death Penalty Activist Cecelia Hawkins and Randall Dale Adams at the Death Penalty Moratorium Press Conference in College Station on May 17

Randall Dale Adams was released from prison in Texas in 1989 after twelve years in prison in Texas including four years on death row. His story was the subject of The Thin Blue Line, the famous 1988 documentary film by Errol Morris on his arrest, imprisonment and near execution for the murder of a Dallas policeman -- a crime he didn't commit.

Y: First of all would you tell us a little more about yourself before your arrest. Why did you come to Texas?

A: I was honorably discharged from the service, had never been in trouble and, for health reasons, was moving to California. After an overnight stay in the Dallas area, I was offered a job and decided to stay.

Y: Would you briefly tell us what happened the day of the murder?

A: While on my way home from work I ran out of gas and was offered assistance from a young man (David Harris). David said he was looking for work, so I took him by my job site and told him to show up Monday morning to speak with my boss. Afterwards, David returned me to the motel where I was temporarily staying. About 3 hours later, David was stopped by a Dallas police officer for driving with no headlights. David shot Officer Robert Wood 5 times, killing him. It seems David was in a stolen car and had been on a crime spree for several days including burglary, armed robbery, breaking and entering and attempted rape.

A month after the killing I was arrested at my job site and charged with capital murder. David told the police that a hitchhiker had killed Officer Wood and pointed the finger at me.

Y: How close did you come to being executed?

A: In May 1979 I came within 72 hours of execution. That execution date was stayed on a writ of certiorari to the US Supreme Court and my death sentence was subsequently overturned in June 1980. Instead of a new trial, my sentence was commuted to life by Gov. Clemens at the Dallas DA's request. We then had to start from square one appealing a life sentence.

Y: Why were you released?

A: Judge Baraka's court in Dallas gave us a hearing on our evidence of prosecutorial misconduct, state witnesses lying, state witnesses given deals, jail house snitches, David's "confession" to media interviewers and great legal assistance by my attorney Randy Schaffer.

Y: I read somewhere after your release from prison that you said you would never come back to Texas. I can't say that I blame you for that. Yet here you are in Texas. In fact, I'm interviewing you after a press conference on the death penalty moratorium at Friends Church in College Station where you spoke. How come you've come back?

A: A friend of mine, Bill Pelke, who is president of the Journey of Hope...from violence to healing asked me to come to the Texas Journey to speak out against the death penalty. Being that my case took place in Texas, I knew I had to go.

I just want to add that the Journey of Hope... consists of murder victims' families who join with death row families and abolitionists to speak out against the death penalty.

Y: Something else I read on a web site while I was researching for this interview that I'm curious about was that you sued Errol Morris. Yet, many people credit his film The Thin Blue Line with presenting a case that convincingly demonstrated that you were most likely not the murderer and had been railroaded, leading to your release a year or so after the film came out. What was the law suit all about?

A: The Thin Blue Line was a project done by Errol Morris and though it helped me by taking my case to the public, I could not win my freedom in a theater. It had to be achieved in a courtroom. After my release, Mr. Morris felt he had the exclusive rights to my life story. He did not. Therefore, it became necessary to file an injunction to sort out any legal questions on the issue. The matter was resolved before having to go before a judge. Mr. Morris reluctantly conceded that I had the sole rights to my own life.

I did not sue Errol Morris for any money or any percentages of The Thin Blue Line, though the media portrayed it that way.

Y: It's been over a decade since you were released. What have you been doing since then?

A: Working and I go around speaking about the death penalty trying to educate the public as to the flaws in our criminal justice system. I feel this is what I must do after what happened to me. I consider this my job, it just doesn't pay anything -- that's why I also have to work.

Y: What are your views on the death penalty moratorium movement and the death penalty in general?

A: Obviously, the death penalty in America does not work. Eighty-seven people have been released from death row in the last 10 years. That figure alone tells me we have probably executed innocents. For that reason I oppose the death penalty. I favor a moratorium if for no other reason than it stops the killings. My ultimate goal is the abolition of the death penalty.