A Witness to Innocence

A Witness to Innocence
Staff Photo Nick Brothers Gary Drinkard speaks to a classroom of UA law students noon Tuesday. Drinkard spent six years on Death Row for a crime he was later proven innocent.

Staff Photo Nick Brothers
Gary Drinkard speaks to a classroom of UA law students noon Tuesday. Drinkard spent six years on Death Row for a crime he was later proven innocent.

Gary Drinkard spent six years on death row for a crime he didn’t commit.

With circumstantial evidence and testomonies, Alabama courts had seen fit to convict Gary for the robbery and murder of a 65-year-old automotive junk dealer in Decatur, Alabama. His sister and her boyfriend would prove to be the actual perpetrators of the crime, but a deal cut with the prosecutor for their testimonial insured they would never see this side of the legal system, a system long past broken.

Grey-haired and grizzled, as Gary took to the center of the room at the Fayetteville Underground to speak with the small crowd of people gathered there, the weight of his experiences showed in his eyes and the way he holds himself. It’s a testimony to his own strength that he spends most of his time traveling around the world and speaking to people about those experiences.

To hear Gary tell it, things were going pretty good for him and his family prior to his arrest. He and his wife had just built a house and they were building a good life together. A simple traffic stop would irrevocably change that.

His sister was badly addicted to cocaine, and after being caught by the police with more than enough to warrant arrest and incarceration, rather than giving up her dealers who had connections with actual cartels, she told the police that she had heard her brother Gary confess to robbing and murdering an old man.

In actuality, and though the details are not known, or at least were not discussed Tuesday night by Gary himself, it was she and her boyfriend who had done the killing, and, worried that the cops were closing in on them, she fed them Gary as a means to get the heat off herself. They would then sell her a bag of marijuana to give to Gary, which they would use as an excuse to search his entire house. When the police arrived to carry out the search, Gary immediately told them where the weed was located, and was baffled when they continued their search everywhere except where he explicitly told them the weed was.

Following this, they would go through a few more circus-like motions, sending Gary’s sister in with a copy of the paper from the day of the murder, and luring him to discuss it. It was supposedly on this tape that one of the investigating officers outright lied to get an arrest and conviction, saying he heard Gary Drinkard on the tape saying “The old man grabbed me, and I went for my gun.”

Gary was arrested shortly after that. In the course of the arrest, the officers threw Drinkard to the pavement, scraping him along his side and on both knees. Photographs of these wounds would be used during both of his trials. In one, they were claimed to have happened two weeks prior to Drinkard’s arrest, on the night of the murder (specifically, he was supposed to have recieved them during the murder). In the later trial that would end up exonerating him and lead him to freedom, his lawyers pointed out the evidence that these were made fresh the day of the arrest, and also cross-examined the officer who supposedly heard his confession, of which they could find no evidence. Upon cross-examination, the officer in question decided he had misremembered.

Gary Drinkard was eventually exonerated and released from prison, and from death row. The wounds from his time are still there, though, and with the help of Witness To Innocence, now goes around the world telling his stories, and giving people his own opinions on the death penalty. After spending the better part of a decade spending 23 hours of everyday in a 5 by 8 cell, his is an opinion worth listening to.

I’ve always struggled over my own opinions on the death penalty. I’m still not sure how I feel when it comes to the people that take joy in it. To hear Gary explain it, though, is to hear it a different way than I ever have before. Prison is the loss of hope, he told the small crowd.

“There’s nothing to look forward to the next day. But the death penalty gives hope in death, because once you’ve made your peace with God, you start to look forward to that.”

If you’d like more information on how to get involved, please visit http://www.witnesstoinnocence.org

Categories: Legacy Archive