The man whose wrongful conviction became a celebrated case because of a movie won his unconditional freedom Thursday, but not before a series of events that cast a pall on the Dallas justice system.
All charges against Randall Dale Adams, convicted in 1976 of murdering a policeman, were dropped by Dallas Dist. Atty. John Vance, who said there was not enough evidence to justify a retrial.
Vance made his announcement at about the same time that Adams’ flight was touching down in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.
“I’ve been standing in a twilight zone for the past 12 1/2 years,” a shaken Adams said after hearing the news, according to wire service reports. “I was in that twilight zone until the door opened. Thank God it did.”
Greeted by Mother
Adams, who had been freed on bail Tuesday to await a possible retrial, was greeted at the airport by his mother, Mildred, film producer Errol Morris, who made the movie that led to his release, and about 100 friends and well-wishers wearing yellow ribbons.
His mother kissed him, and they cried.
Columbus Mayor Dana Rinehart joined in the hero’s welcome and promised Adams, 40, a city job.
Despite the reluctance of Dallas prosecutors to let him go, Adams praised Vance for his decision, but he deferred any other comment on the case until he talks with his lawyer.
“I’m sure my family has been through as much pain--if not more--than I have,” Adams said.
Adams’ case was brought to the public’s attention by the documentary film, “The Thin Blue Line,” in which another man all but confessed to the killing.
Wanted Judge Removed
Vance’s announcement that the case was being dropped was issued after days of haggling during which the district attorney asked that the judge in the case be removed on the grounds that he was prejudiced in favor of Adams.
At one point, prosecutors managed to have the bail for Adams doubled, which served only to delay his freedom for another day.
In a statement Thursday afternoon, Vance said he had no vendetta against Adams and added that he did not question the integrity of District Judge Larry Baraka.
“The easy route would have been to release Mr. Adams immediately,” Vance said. “However, my obligation is not to the media or to play the part of the hero. My responsibility in every case is to the victim, his family, Dallas County citizens and the state of Texas.”
But Adams’ lawyer, Randy Schaffer, said in Houston that the prosecutor’s behavior was nothing more than “blind arrogance” by an official who completely missed the public’s sentiment about the case.
“These people don’t think the way other people think,” he said. “There is no logic to their conduct.”
Conviction Thrown Out
The battle for Adams’ freedom began in earnest late last year after the movie was released. The first big break occurred last December, when Judge Baraka threw out Adams’ conviction. On March 1, an appeals court in Austin concurred, finding that the prosecution had suppressed evidence and witnesses had lied under oath.
It seemed, for all intents and purposes, that the case was over and that Adams would be freed quickly. But Vance continued to contend that he was ready to proceed with a new trial, which set the stage for unusual events this week.
On Monday, Baraka ruled that Adams could be released on a $50,000 bond. The district attorney’s office boycotted the hearing and instead appealed to the administrative judge of the court to appoint another judge to rule on whether Baraka was biased in the case.
The administrative judge, Ron Chapman, raised the bond to $100,000, after Deputy Dist. Atty. Winfield Scott called Adams a killer who could easily kill again if released. Adams, unable to meet the new bond, dejectedly returned to the Dallas County Jail, where he was being held.
On Tuesday, Chapman revoked the higher bond he had set the day before, and Adams was released. At the same time, another judge ruled that Baraka was fit to hear the case.
On Wednesday, Adams flew to Houston with his attorney, for his first taste of freedom since his conviction. From there, he headed home Thursday, not knowing that he would be a free man when his plane landed.