Inmate freed in decades-old murder case

Police Chemist McCarty
Curtis Edward McCarty leaves the Oklahoma County Jail in Oklahoma City on Friday.Sue Ogrocki / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A former Oklahoma death row inmate was freed on Friday after a state judge dismissed a 22-year-old murder charge against him.

Curtis Edward McCarty, 42, was released from the Oklahoma County Jail at about 12:15 p.m. Attorneys escorted him to a waiting gray minivan through a crowd of reporters who asked him if he thought he would ever be freed.

"Actually, I did," McCarty said. "It's kind of a hollow victory for everybody, I think."

McCarty was twice convicted of the 1982 murder of 18-year-old Pamela Kaye Willis. A prosecutor said he would not appeal the ruling.

The judge ruled that the case against McCarty was tainted by the actions of former police chemist Joyce Gilchrist, who acted in "bad faith" by losing and destroying evidence that could have been used to show McCarty's innocence.

Reluctant judge
Judge Twyla Mason Gray condemned Gilchrist's work in the case and said the former police chemist had found a way "to undermine everything that I believe in." Gray said that although the law required her to dismiss the murder charge, she believed McCarty bore some responsibility for the victim's death.

District Attorney David Prater said he also believes McCarty was involved in the crime but said Gray had no choice but to dismiss the murder charge.

"I am not criticizing her decision at all. I think it was very courageous," Prater said. "There's no way that he could be afforded a fair trial."

Colin Starger, an attorney with the New York-based Innocence Project who worked on McCarty's case, said Gilchrist initially cleared McCarty after reviewing hair samples discovered at the scene, but later changed her interpretation of the evidence.

"There was no case against Mr. McCarty that was meaningful in any way until Joyce Gilchrist went and changed evidence and said that hairs in the case match him," Starger said. "She then covered up all those actions and then destroyed her work later on to cover up her trail. We were unable to do DNA tests on those hairs because she destroyed them."

A telephone call to Gilchrist's attorney, Melvin Hall, was not immediately returned.

Two convictions
McCarty was originally convicted in 1986, but the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals overturned that ruling based on Gilchrist's improper testimony about hair and semen evidence. He was convicted again in 1989. That conviction was overturned in 2005.

McCarty lost a bid to have the murder charge dropped in November 2005.

Gilchrist was fired on Sept. 25, 2001, after 21 years at the Oklahoma City Police Department as a chemist. She had been investigated by the FBI, and investigations were launched into more than 1,400 of the cases assigned to Gilchrist.