Curtis Edward McCarty was exonerated in 2007 after serving 21 years – including 19 years on death row – for a 1982 Oklahoma City murder he didn’t commit. McCarty was convicted twice and sentenced to death three times based on prosecutorial misconduct and testimony from forensic analyst Joyce Gilchrist, whose lab misconduct has contributed to at least two other convictions later overturned by DNA evidence.
When 18-year-old Pamela Kaye Willis was raped, stabbed, and strangled in her Oklahoma City home on December 10, 1982, Curtis McCarty became a suspect because he was acquainted with her. Soon after the murder in 1983, forensic analyst Joyce Gilchrist examined hairs from the crime scene and found they did not match McCarty’s. Police interviewed McCarty several times over the next three years, but he was not arrested until 1985. During the three years of police questioning, Gilchrist secretly altered her notes to declare that the crime scene hairs could have been McCarty’s. Attorneys for McCarty did not discover the change in Gilchrist’s notes until 2000, when she underwent investigation for fraud in other cases. When the defense requested retesting of the hairs, the evidence had either been lost or destroyed deliberately. Gilchrist, implicated in two other cases that sent innocent men to death row, was later fired from her job with the Oklahoma City police department.
“I am free physically, but mentally I am not. I am always there and I am always with the men I left behind and the men who died there, men whom I am certain are innocent.”