Judge upholds convictions in 1987 murder of woman

Innocence Project says ­petitioners will appeal ruling

By Heather Cobun
The Daily Record Newswire
BALTIMORE — A Talbot County judge has declined to reopen the cases of two men convicted in 2001 of murdering an Easton woman in 1987 despite a four-year effort by the Innocence Project to obtain new trials.

David R. Faulkner and Jonathan D. Smith, both 47, will continue serving the life sentences they received for the death of 64-year-old Adeline Wilford after Talbot County Circuit Judge Stephen H. Kehoe denied petitions for writs of actual innocence and motions to reopen post-conviction proceedings last week.

Kehoe overwhelmingly found that the bulk of the new evidence claimed by the petitioners could have been found sooner, including a palm print from the victim’s home that was later determined to match one of the suspects initially identified by police and a conversation that could have been used to impeach the state’s key witness. Kehoe also found the evidence was insufficient to show Faulkner and Smith’s innocence.

The evidence “may indicate the non-guilt of the Petitioners, but the court finds that this evidence does not indicate that they are innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted,” Kehoe wrote.

In a prepared statement, Bryce Benjet, a staff attorney at the Innocence Project, said the petitioners will appeal the ruling.

“The court’s opinion contains serious legal errors and ignores compelling evidence proving our clients’ innocence,” Benjet said.

Attorneys representing Faulkner and Smith did not return calls seeking comment Friday.

Convinced of guilt

The Innocence Project has been involved in the case since 2012 and began filing motions seeking DNA and palm print testing in 2013, according to Joseph S. Michael, a Washington County prosecutor. He was assigned to the case to avoid the appearance of a conflict by the Talbot County State’s Attorney’s Office and because of his expertise in post-conviction litigation.

Michael said he reviewed the filings then the case record and was convinced of Faulkner and Smith’s guilt.

“There will always be some mystery to some cases I handle, but this case is not a mystery to me,” he said.

Wilford was stabbed repeatedly in her home on Jan. 5, 1987. The murder went unsolved until 1998, when the investigation was reopened and one of Wilford’s children offered a reward.

Beverly Haddaway came forward and told police that on the day of the murder she came across Smith, her nephew, as well as Faulkner and a third defendant who would later testify against them;  Smith appeared to have blood on his shirt, according to Kehoe’s opinion.

In 2000, Haddaway talked to Smith while wearing a wire, and he confessed to the murder and provided details that matched Haddaway’s statement.

Faulkner was convicted of premeditated murder, and Smith was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder.

It was later discovered by the Innocence Project that prior to trial, Haddaway had a discussion with one of the investigators asking for charges against her grandson to be dropped, which they later were.

Michael said he conceded the recorded conversation could have impeachment value and should have been provided to the defense attorneys, but Kehoe ruled that diminishing Haddaway’s credibility does not undercut the other corroborating testimony.

The details of Smith’s confession, which tracked with Haddaway’s description of events, convinced Michael the right perpetrators were convicted.

“I understand that there are such things as false confessions … but I know of no example and the experts showed me no example where there could be a false eyewitness statement then corroborated by a confession of a defendant,” he said.


Petitions for writs of actual innocence should be granted when there is newly discovered evidence that creates a substantial or significant possibility the result of the trial may have been different and which could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial.

Faulkner and Smith claimed there were witnesses and forensic evidence that police did not pursue or which weren’t available at the time of the investigations or trial, but Kehoe found the evidence was available to be discovered by the defense.

Witness statements that implicated other suspects were in the investigative file, and finger and palm prints of any of the 27 suspects in the file could have been requested to attempt to find a match with the palm print found at the scene, according to Kehoe.

The recording of Haddaway’s conversation with an investigator was located via a Public Information Act request, according to Kehoe, which could have been made during the time frame permitting a motion for a new trial.

“The purpose of the statute is to afford the innocent the opportunity to show their innocence, and not to recast their defense with information that was otherwise available to them,” he wrote.