In January 1987, Adeline Wilford was murdered in her Talbot County, Maryland, home when she interrupted a burglary in progress. Police believed that the killer or killers had entered the house through a laundry room window—they found palm prints on the window and the washing machine right inside the window, as well as pieces of shrubbery that appeared to be like the ones under the window in places where the perpetrators had been.
Between 1987 and 2000, police developed more than two dozen suspects. The palm prints being their best lead, the police performed 72 manual comparisons of the palm prints to potential suspects over 13 years.
In January 2000, a witness who was on the lookout for the $25,000 reward money said that David Faulkner, Jonathan Smith, and Ray Andrews had committed the crime. Although the palm prints did not belong to any of them, that witness and the coerced confessions of Jonathan and Andrews ensured Andrews’ plea and David’s and Jonathan’s convictions. The witness received $10,000 prior to her testimony and sued the victim’s family for the remaining $15,000 after the trials.
The palm prints remained a mystery, however. When MAIP and the Innocence Project began representing David and Jonathan, we asked in August 2013 that the state run the palm prints through a new palm print database.
The state agreed in 2014, and in March of that year, there was a match to a known offender in the database. The state refused to tell us the offender’s name, saying only that the individual was not one of the alternative suspects.
But when the state finally relented in March 2015, we realized within less than an hour that the print did belong to one of the alternative suspects: Ty Brooks. Brooks became a suspect in 1990 when a confidential informant and acquaintance of Brooks told police that Brooks’ accomplice had confessed, specifically naming Brooks. That spontaneous and uncoerced confession was more credible than the confessions of Jonathan or Andrews.
David and Jonathan (and Andrews) should never have been arrested – let alone tried – but police failed to follow through on this lead despite finding that Brooks and his accomplice were out of prison at the time of the crime and had committed a number of crimes around the time of the murder, including records of Brooks breaking into homes through windows and assaulting the elderly occupants of the homes.
The story should end there, with the release of David and Jonathan and, ideally, the conviction of Brooks. Instead, the prosecutor and the judge did everything in their power to minimize and explain away this physical evidence that had once been considered so crucial, and it was not until April 2020 that the Maryland Court of Appeals finally granted David and Jonathan the new trials they have so deserved.
The state still has not found any evidence that Brooks, his accomplice, and David and Jonathan knew each other. And yet, both David and Jonathan have remained incarcerated awaiting new trials.
As a result, David and Jonathan have been in prison for six years and counting since the state learned that the key piece of physical evidence that drove the investigation was left by another man. Instead of taking another look and admitting possible fallibility, the state and the local court have dug in because they simply cannot admit that the system made a mistake.
At long last, in a habeas proceeding brought by David to challenge his ongoing detention, a court has ordered David’s release, finding that Maryland law, and the findings and conclusions of the local court “compel the pretrial release” of David. He was finally released on Friday, January 29, 2021. David will be held on home detention with electronic monitoring through the Pre-Trial Services Unit until his new trial, currently scheduled for May 2021.
This victory would not have been possible without the incredible leadership of John Chesley at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher. For the past seven years, John and his team have led the charge to free David in two trial-length innocence hearings, three appellate arguments, and now simultaneous habeas proceedings and pre-trial proceedings in two separate trial courts.
David Faulkner is the 38th innocent man freed or exonerated by the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project. Collectively, these men have lost 744 years of their lives in prison for crimes they did not commit.