Lawyers for freed death row inmate making final push to clear his name.
After 3 years of freedom, former death row inmate Earl Washington Jr.
still can't get any sleep.
The mildly retarded 43-year-old still dreams of being strapped to the
electric chair. His stomach turns every time he remembers that despite a
state pardon, prosecutors still believe he could have raped and murdered a
woman in 1982.
Washington has learned that there's a difference between pardoned and
In a final effort to clear his name, Washington's lawyers are prying open
a secret police investigation that once put him within 9 days of
execution. Doing so meant reopening old wounds, forcing the former inmate
to re-examine the darkest moments in his life.
Police files made public at the request of The Associated Press and other
news organizations show that one of the original investigating officers
may have helped Washington confess to the slaying of Rebecca Williams.
Lab tests also matched DNA from the crime scene to another man - a
convicted rapist named Kenneth Tinsley who was sentenced to life in prison
a few years after Williams was stabbed to death in her apartment in
"There were so many opportunities for them to take Earl Washington off the
suspect list," said Robert T. Hall, one of several attorneys representing
Washington in a federal lawsuit filed in Charlottesville against state
prosecutors and police. "Once they had this confession from this mentally
retarded man, not only did they shut down their investigation, they turned
their back on any exculpatory evidence."
The news of the unsealed investigation also took Williams family members
by surprise. Clifford Williams said he no longer blames Washington for his
wife's rape and murder.
"I spent 17 years cussing this man, thinking he was the killer," said
Williams, who now believes Tinsley killed his wife. "Now that I find this
out, it sucks...
"They picked up this poor black man from Bealeton and try to stick him
with it, and they done a real good job of it. And coerced him--he's half
retarded, anyway--so he said yes to satisfy the investigators, you know,
and now the whole thing is screwed up."
Clifford Williams is remarried and has started a new life. His 3 daughters
left Virginia with their grandmother after Rebecca Williams was slain. He
found them only a few years ago, living in Arizona.
Police have given him little information about the case over the years,
Clifford Williams said. He talks to Washington's lawyers to learn about
Virginia State Police have resisted opening the Williams investigation to
the public and have asked U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon to keep
certain documents under seal. Police always keep ongoing investigations
secret as a protective measure, said Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for
Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore.
"If you publicly identify a suspect, for example, you give that suspect an
opportunity to destroy evidence," Murtaugh said.
Tinsley, who remains in prison on the rape conviction, is considered a
suspect, said James L. Camblos III, an Albemarle County prosecutor who was
appointed in August to review the case for state police. But so is
Washington, he said this week, noting that he couldn't rule out that the
two may have worked together.
"There are a lot of crimes that are committed by more than one person, but
you get physical evidence from only one of them," Camblos said.
Washington's lawyers dispute Camblos' theory of two attackers - before she
died, Williams said she was attacked by a lone black man with a beard,
according to police records.
Hall also criticized how state police were reviewing the case. Camblos
once represented Tinsley as he appealed his rape conviction in 1985.
When asked about his history with Tinsley, the prosecutor said he had no
memory of it. Camblos removed himself from the case anyway, handing it
over to his deputy, Richard Moore, this past week.
Washington's lawyers filed the lawsuit in 2002, arguing that police fed
Washington information about the case that was not publicly known and
questioned him for hours until he signed a prewritten letter confessing to
According to court documents, Virginia State Police investigator Reese
Wilmore brought Washington to Williams' apartment and pointed it out so he
could identify it for the record. Police ignored Washington when he said
Williams was black (she was white) and that he stabbed her a few times
(she was stabbed 38 times).
A decade later, with Washington's execution date looming, Wilmore worried
about the man they helped convict.
Wilmore remembered that Washington didn't really identify Williams'
apartment. The investigator also wondered if he mistakenly told him about
a mint green shirt found at the scene - an item that wasn't publicly
"Could he have said things to be cooperative?" Wilmore, who died in 1994,
wrote in a January 1992 memo to the trial prosecutor, John Bennett. "Was
it possible that he embellished the story to please us?"
William G. Broaddus, a Richmond attorney representing Wilmore's estate in
the lawsuit, pointed out that Wilmore noted in his memo that he never
tried to lead Washington to his confession.
"I can only surmise that he was trying to reconcile and re-evaluate
everything," Broaddus said of the 1992 memo. "That's customarily done by
Washington moved to Virginia Beach after he was pardoned by then-Gov. Jim
Gilmore in 2000. He works as a handyman and lives in an apartment with his
new wife, Pam Edwards.
Other than a short trip to see his parents, Washington has refused to
return to Culpeper County because he's afraid of the police there, he said
in a court deposition. Washington's lawyers say he's not interested in
Also at that deposition hearing in January, Washington told police lawyers
what he thinks really happened when police questioned him after his 1983
"They kept telling me they know I commit the crime in Culpeper and this
and that and the rest of the crime," Washington said in court documents.
"I told them I didn't commit no crime. Then they kept telling me how the
crime went. ...Then in the end I got tired of it and just said 'I did