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Case and Trial Background: From Arrest & Flawed Investigation to Unequal Sentencing

The Victim: In 1984, Darius Elam was convicted of aggravated robbery of a white man found dead with gunshot wound to his head on the campus of Rice University May 7, 1983.

Arrest: A day earlier on Friday, May 6, 1983, while Elam was at work inside a shoe store in the Galleria, Clarence Richardson, who Darius recognized from Texas Southern University, requested a ride home. Elam agreed. Before leaving the mall, Richardson asked Darius to stop at another shoe store and offered to buy Elam a pair of shoes. Elam promised to pay Richardson back. Without Darius’ knowledge, Richardson, a Black man, attempted to use the deceased’s White man’s credit card and driver’s license with his photo imposed over the deceased’s photo. The store clerk alerted security. Richardson and Elam were arrested.

Charge: For the first 90 days, the Harris County District Attorney charged Darius with credit card fraud, and then capital murder and robbery. However, after being unable to make murder charge stick, the charges were changed to aggravated robbery.

Flawed Investigation and Paid Testimony: Darius was convicted with a deeply flawed investigation, manufactured evidence, and a paid testimony from a HPD informant.

The conviction was based on a reported yellow sheet of paper with alleged blood spatters. This whole yellow sheet of paper was never logged or mentioned by three investigators on May 9, 1983. Ninety days after the initial investigation, HPD Officer Leonard Cooper, reportedly found this sheet of paper on the front passenger’s side floor of the victim’s car.
 

HPD informant testified that he heard Darius confess to crime in jail. This informant had 2 prior convictions, and not only received payment to testify, but also a deal to avoid a "3 strikes" life sentence conviction.


Unequal Sentencing: Although Clarence Richardson was in possession of the victim’s credit card and ID and declared Elam was not involved in the credit card scheme, Richardson was not charged with any crime relating to the victim’s death. Instead, he was charged with credit card fraud and only served 3 years. Suspiciously Darius, who had no connection to the credit card fraud or victim, was convicted of aggravated robbery and sentenced to life.


Post-Conviction: Court Delays, DNA Exclusion, Recanted Jailhouse Informant Testimony & DA Investigates Innocence Claims

DNA Exclusion

At the time of conviction in 1984 DNA was not a forensic option for any cases.

In 2014, DNA testing on the original items (a bullet, shoes, clothing, fingernail clippings, hair, and blood samples) excluded Darius as a DNA contributor and found a 3rd person’s DNA under the victim’s fingernail.
 

The alleged yellow sheet of paper was a key factor in Elam’s conviction. Suspiciously, this sheet of paper was not documented in the original evidence log and was the only item destroyed by Harris County District Clerk’s Office in 1995. Destruction of this vital piece of evidence prevented Elam from getting DNA testing on it.

 

Unreliable Jailhouse Informant Recants His 1983 Testimony

Advocating for justice on Darius’ behalf, Tammie Lang Campbell, Executive Director of Honey Brown Hope Foundation, requested Houston Police Department to conduct a post-conviction investigation that led to HPD’s informant, Roderick/Lee Patrick Patterson, recanting his 1983 testimony to HPD and to Campbell on March 1, 2021.
 

During recanted statement, the informant stated that he lied about Elam admitting to killing and robbing Richard Bowen or anyone. The informant also stated that he had two prior felony convictions that incentivized him to falsely testify against Darius in 1983 to save himself and avoid a three strike out-life sentence for a gun probation violation that was later quashed. Patterson was also paid $300 by HPD.

 

Status with Texas Criminal Court of Appeals

  • 2019 Two-year Delay on Writ Ruling | On July 12, 2019, a writ hearing based on DNA exclusion was heard in Harris County 232nd District Court, with Presiding Judge Josh Hill. Judge Hill was scheduled to issue a recommendation to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals by December 2, 2019, but he delayed his decision for two years.
     
  • 2021  Recanted Jailhouse Informant Testimony | During the two-year delay from Judge Hill, the jailhouse informant recanted his testimony as a result of the Honey Brown Hope Foundation's and HPD’s post-conviction investigation efforts. Darius and his attorney filed a Supplemental Application of Writ of Habeas Corpus on June 3, 2021 in the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas. The Writ seeks relief from final felony conviction based on jailhouse informant recanting his testimony in March 2021.
     
  • 2022  District Attorney Investigates Claims of Innocence & Mandate from Texas Criminal Court of Appeals
    • Judge Recommends Denial of Writ | After a 2-year delay, on January 10, 2022, Judge Josh Hill, 232nd Judicial District Court of Harris County, finally issued his recommendation to the Court of Criminal Appeals. He recommended that Darius Elam’s application for Writ of Habeas Corpus be denied. His recommendation didn't address Supplemental Writ regarding recanted informant's testimony
    • Hearing on Recanted Informant Testimony | After a two-year delay, on January 10, 2022, Judge Josh Hill, 232nd Judicial District Court of Harris County, finally issued his recommendation to the Court of Criminal Appeals. He recommended that Darius Elam’s application for Writ of Habeas Corpus be denied, and that the original guilty conviction be upheld. His recommendation didn't address the June 2021 Supplemental Writ regarding recanted informant's testimony. Failing to rule on Darius’ and his attorney’s supplementary writ regarding the informant recanting his statement, the Criminal Court of Appeals ordered a fact-finding hearing in June 2022 regarding the informant’s recanted statement.
    • Harris County District Attorney "Un-Recuses" Itself and Investigates | The Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg recused the entire office because a staff member, Vivian King, served as Darius’ public defender when the motion to request post-conviction DNA testing was denied in 2009. However, in May 2022 the Harris County District Attorney’s office notified the Honey Brown Hope Foundation that the office will be “un-recusing” itself and investigating Darius’ innocence claims. This new development means that the DA Office can decide to no longer prosecute and dismiss Darius' case, if actual innocence is found. As such,  the June 2022 fact-finding hearing is on hold pending the DA Office's investigation. 

How Foundation Became Involved

Founder Tammie Lang Campbell was visiting the prison at the request of Jim Arnold who has a program similar to Toast Masters in prison called, Skills for Life. It is designed to reduce recidivism. He requested her to give him feedback about his program after reading her editorial about the school-to-prison pipeline. In addition to visiting the prison at the request of Jim, she was also visiting as a class assignment for her American Leadership Forum (ALF) class and as the chair of Fort Bend District Attorney Brian Middleton's Criminal Justice Reform Transition Committie.

During the visit, one of the inmates pointed to Darius and said, “You see that man over there – he is innocent.”

When Campbell spoke to Darius for a brief moment, he gave an impassioned plea, “Mrs. Campbell, I would greatly appreciate anything you can do to help me prove my innocence.” Campbell told him, “Consider it done.”

Since that day last year, the Foundation has been exposing his wrongful conviction and advocating not only for his release, but also justice.” 


Elam's Support Team

With God at the head, the Honey Brown Hope Foundation and its Founder Tammie Lang Campbell are not alone in advocating for Darius. 
 

Expectations of Darius Elam’s Supporters
After four decades of incarceration, Darius, his family, the Honey Brown Hope Foundation, and supporters are hopeful and prayerful that the truth will be revealed during this hearing and that the Criminal Court of Appeals will expeditiously vacate Darius’ conviction or grant him a new trial.
 

Support Team

  • His dedicated family who remains by his side. 
  • Dave Atwood | Houston Peace & Justice Center & The Prison Show Host (Click to view statement of support)
  • Sylvester Brown | Executive Director of Black Heritage Society 
  • Howard Henderson, Ph.D | Director, Center for Justice Research Professor, School of Public Affairs Texas Southern University
  • Shelly Kennedy | Community Advocate
  • Johnny Mata | Founder/Executive Director of The Greater Houston Coalition for Justice (Click to view the statement of support)

MEDIA COVERAGE

Please see below for latest print and digital media coverage.  
 

May 20, 2022 | KPFT Prison Show Case Update 

 

April - May 2022 | Defender Network 

April 22, 2022 | Chicago Crusader

July 23, 2020 | Defender Network 


July 3, 2020 | KPFT Prison Show 


June 29, 2020 | Houston Peace and Justice Center Statement of Support 

June 13, 2020 | Fox 26 Houston 

June 11, 2020 | Press Conference 

January 29, 2020 | Fox 26 Houston


January 22, 2020 | Houston Forward Times 

 

In the early 1980s, Elam came to Houston from Chicago on a track scholarship to Texas Southern University and became a member Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. He was a hard-working family man with four young children and a wife, and no prior convictions. In 1983, he became a casualty of America's flawed justice system that is quick to convict and slow to exonerate when evidence proves innocence.

Darius Elam was convicted of aggravated robbery of a white man found dead with a gunshot wound to his head on the campus of Rice University on May 7, 1983. He has been serving a life sentence since 1984 despite no confession; a deeply flawed investigation; and compelling evidence he was wrongly convicted.


EVIDENCE SUPPORTING DARIUS ELAM'S INNOCENCE

  • Recanted testimony  from Houston Police Department (HPD) jailhouse informant who was paid $300 and facing a “three strikes out” life sentence for a gun probation violation that was later quashed.
     
  • DNA testing on the original items (a bullet, shoes, clothing, fingernail clippings, hair, and blood samples) excluded Darius as a DNA contributor and found a 3rd unidentified person’s DNA under the victim’s fingernail. 
     
  • Questionable yellow sheet of paper with alleged blood spatters  was never logged or mentioned by three investigators on May 9, 1983. Ninety days after the initial investigation, HPD Officer Leonard Cooper reportedly found this sheet of paper on the front passenger’s side floor of the victim’s car. Suspiciously, this sheet of paper was not documented in the original evidence log and was the only item destroyed by Harris County District Clerk’s Office in 1995. Destruction of this vital piece of evidence prevented Elam from getting DNA testing on it.​​​​​

 

LATEST WITH THE CASE

  • Judge Recommends Denial of Writ | After a 2-year delay, on January 10, 2022, Judge Josh Hill, 232nd Judicial District Court of Harris County, finally issued his recommendation to the Court of Criminal Appeals. He recommended that Darius Elam’s application for Writ of Habeas Corpus be denied. His recommendation didn't address Supplemental Writ regarding recanted informant's testimony.
  • Hearing on Recanted Informant Testimony | After a two-year delay, on January 10, 2022, Judge Josh Hill, 232nd Judicial District Court of Harris County, finally issued his recommendation to the Court of Criminal Appeals. He recommended that Darius Elam’s application for Writ of Habeas Corpus be denied, and that the original guilty conviction be upheld. His recommendation didn't address the June 2021 Supplemental Writ regarding recanted informant's testimony. Failing to rule on Darius’ and his attorney’s supplementary writ regarding the informant recanting his statement, the Criminal Court of Appeals ordered a fact-finding hearing in June 2022 regarding the informant’s recanted statement.
  • Harris County District Attorney "Un-Recuses" Itself and Investigates | The Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg recused the entire office because a staff member, Vivian King, served as Darius’ public defender when the motion to request post-conviction DNA testing was denied in 2009. However, in May 2022 the Harris County District Attorney’s office notified the Honey Brown Hope Foundation that the office will be “un-recusing” itself and investigating Darius’ innocence claims. This new development means that the DA Office can decide to no longer prosecute and dismiss Darius' case, if actual innocence is found. As such,  the June 2022 fact-finding hearing is on hold pending the DA Office's investigation. 



More details about the case are below. 


WILL RECANTED TESTIMONY AND DNA EXCLUSION SET DARIUS ELAM FREE?