Wrongly Imprisoned for Murder, Author Asks Law Students to be Fair
Born and raised in Texas, Brown’s unforgettable journey through the criminal justice system drew a rapt audience that filled room 355 B of Holland Hall with a respectful silence on Nov. 8.
In her lecture, co-sponsored by the Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations, the Black Law Students Association and the Criminal Law Association, Brown told the story of how, in 1980, she was accused of being involved in a robbery that led to the murder of a store owner in Dallas. She, however, was at work with her co-workers when the crime happened, as she would have on any other day.
Three days after the murder, Brown was contacted by her mother and informed that the police were looking for her. Shocked, Brown picked up a copy of newspaper and found the story written about a woman identified as Joyce Ann Brown. According to the story, the car that was used for the robbery was rented to a woman named Joyce Ann Brown. That’s when she decided to call the police department and volunteered to come into the police station to set the story straight.
Brown had time cards from work, check stubs, and 13 co-workers as witnesses to what she did at work on May 6, the day of the murder, to prove it was impossible for her to be at the scene of the crime. But all proof of her innocence was denied.
“I believed in our system, you see,” she said. “But when I showed them the evidence, they called me a liar.”
Although the car used in the robbery had actually been rented to a different Joyce Ann Brown, an eyewitness erroneously identified Brown from a photo and she was charged with the crime. Before the trial, police and prosecutors discovered the error but proceeded with the prosecution. Brown was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
“I might have understood if it was a false identification or if the district attorney actually really thought I was guilty of the crime,” she said. “But none of that is the truth.”
Brown continued on, speaking of her sadness for the humiliation her family went through and the tragedies that directly affected her loved ones while she was in Texas’ Mountain View prison, unable to do anything about it.
She was angry and depressed when she first went to prison. She said her none of her alibis could help her because she was an African American woman in America. When she realized that she was going to spend the rest of her life in prison, she asked God for help and began to write to everyone she knew, hoping to find someone who would take up her cause.
After an investigation by Jim McCloskey of Centurion Ministries and an exposé by CBS’ “60 Minutes,” Brown’s conviction was reversed because police and prosecutors had failed to turn over exculpatory evidence in their possession. All charges were dismissed in 1990.
When she was freed, she said she did not have the time to remain angry at the system that destroyed her life and family. She founded Mothers (Fathers) for the Advancement of Social Systems, Inc., a non-profit foundation that helps people being released from prison readjust to life without bars, providing support for the children and families of adult offenders at high risk for substance abuse, medical or emotional disorders, and poverty. She also wrote a book entitled Justice Denied.
“I just simply want you to be fair in your decision when you have a person’s life in your hands,” she advised the law students in the room, suggesting they think of her story and the many others who have served time in prison for crimes they did not commit.
She said she knew she was a changed person and her experience in prison allowed her to open up an organization to help those who are in need of help.
“My purpose was not to be a part of the problem, but to be a part of the solution,” she said. “I don’t regret anything. God has blessed me.”