The State Bureau of Investigation has agreed to a $3.9 million settlement with former death row inmate Alan Gell to end his lawsuit accusing the SBI of fabricating evidence and obstructing justice, according to documents made public.
Officials at the SBI could not cite a bigger settlement made on behalf of the agency.
“I see it as an admission of guilt”
Alan Gell, who spent nine years behind bars, said the settlement amount is a concession of his innocence and the SBI's wrongdoing. He was in jail on a car theft charge when the murder for which he was wrongly convicted occurred.
The settlement was made on behalf of SBI special agent Dwight Ransome. He was the lead investigator into the 1995 killing of Allen Ray Jenkins.
According to a case summary Ransome had decided Gell was guilty early on despite having statements from 17 independent witnesses who saw the victim alive after Gell was jailed on unrelated car theft charges.
Ransome recommended Gell be charged with murder while failing to inform the prosecutor of a host of evidence favorable to Gell: taped telephone calls, a failed polygraph test and the 17 witness statements.
Instead, he built his case on stories of two drug-abusing 15-year-old girls whose stories changed every time they were interviewed. Both reached plea bargains in which they promised to testify truthfully against Gell in return for being allowed to plead guilty to second-degree murder. They receive sentences of nearly 10 years in prison.
SBI Director Robin Pendergraft said Ransome has been transferred to an administrative job and will not conduct any more investigations and Ransome violated policy by failing to document critical events in the case.
Ransome declined to be interviewed.
“Why does Ransome still have a job?”
- victim's son
Attorney General Roy Cooper said he has hired a retired assistant FBI director to review cases handled by Ransome and to suggest changes in policies and techniques to avoid such cases.
David Ray, son of victim Allen Ray Jenkins, sat through both trials and is convinced of Gell's innocence. He said he was ecstatic over the news of the settlementt
"I hope the SBI will discipline Dwight Ransome. Why does he still have a job?"
LEWISTON, NC -- After nine years in prison and two murder trials, Alan Gell is a free man.
A jury cleared Gell of all charges in a 1995 murder last week.
Those nine years in prison shaped Alan Gell's future. He talked with WRAL's Mike Charbonneau about his new-found freedom.
"It's great to be home," Gell said. "But it's an adjustment."
Gell and his family waited nearly a decade to celebrate his homecoming. For the past nine years, Jeanette Johnson visted her son every Saturday at Raleigh's Central Prison.
"I'd sit there and talk to him and tell him I love him, and he'd tell me not to worry," Johnson said, "that he'd put it in God's hand, and God wasn't going to let him die for something he didn't do."
Alan Gell was sentenced to die for the 1995 murder of a Bertie County man. But last week, the jury in his second trial acquitted him of all charges, and Gell walked out of court a free man.
"God and lawyers and fate and everything would let the truth come out," Gell said.
Gell said he is not bitter about how long it took to be set free. But he said he wants investigators to find Alan Jenkins' real killer.
"I think they (Jenkins' family) need to know who took their loved one," Gell said, "and I think I need to know who took their loved one because I did nine years for them."
Most of that time was spent on Death Row.
"I had a lot of friends be executed that I had met there," Gell said.
Jenkins' family offered a statement, saying they "did not agree with the way the system worked this time."
Attorney General Roy Cooper declared the case closed.
Gell said he plans to stay in Lewiston for a while, catching up with family and friends. But then he wants to head off to school, become a social worker and help troubled teens.
He also plans to use his case to fight for a moratorium on the death penalty.
"My whole outlook on it is to give it a purpose," he said, "give it a reason."
Gell said helping make a difference is the only way to ensure the last nine years of his life were not wasted.
WINDSOR, NC (AP) -- A prisoner taken off death row after a judge ruled prosecutors withheld key evidence in his murder trial was found not guilty Wednesday in a second trial.
Alan Gell, 28, has spent a decade behind bars in the 1995 murder of retired truck driver Allen Ray Jenkins, who was shot twice during a robbery. After the verdict, Gell hugged his attorneys and his mother wept in the courtroom.
He was immediately allowed to go free. When asked what he was going to do, he responded: "Go home, where I should have been years ago."
The case has led to calls for North Carolina to impose a moratorium on executions, and the verdict likely will fuel the debate.
Prosecutors who handled Gell's retrial were not seeking the death penalty, but Gell faced an automatic life term if convicted. Prosecutors left court without comment.
Attorney General Roy Cooper released a statement saying he was "confident that a thorough presentation of the evidence was made" by both sides.
"The jury has spoken and we respect its decision," Cooper said.
Asked whether he harbors hard feelings against the state, Gell replied, "No comment. As you all know, there was some misconduct."
Jenkins' body was found on April 14, 1995, inside his home in Aulander. Prosecutors built a case against Gell based on the testimony of two teenagers, Crystal Morris and Shanna Hall, Gell's former girlfriend, who testified that they saw Gell pull the trigger and kill Jenkins during a robbery on April 3, 1995.
But prosecutors in Alan Gell's original trial withheld from defense lawyers a secretly taped phone call in which Morris, who was then 15 years old, did not answer when her boyfriend asked her twice whether Gell killed Jenkins. She also told her boyfriend she had to "make up a story" about Jenkins' death.
Also withheld by prosecutors were statements from more than a dozen witnesses who said they saw Jenkins alive after April 3. Gell was either out of state or in jail on a car-theft charge from April 4 until after Jenkins' body was found April 14.
During the retrial, three scientific experts testified that Jenkins' body and the scene of his killing were not consistent with the prosecution's argument that he was killed 11 days prior.
Defense lawyer Joseph Cheshire V said the case shows why defense lawyers need open access to prosecution files and investigations of withheld evidence.
"A prosecutor wins when justice is done, not when there's a conviction," he said.
Charles Jenkins, the older brother of the murder victim, said watching Gell go free was "hard on everybody." His wife, Maxine Jenkins, remained convinced of Gell's guilt.
"The bottom line is, we know who pulled the trigger," she said.
Investigators found no physical evidence such as hair, blood, fingerprints or fibers linking Gell to Jenkins' death. Police found the shotgun and other items in July 1995 after Morris and Hall told them where they had been hidden.
Both Hall and Morris reached plea bargains with prosecutors in which they promised to testify truthfully in return for being allowed to plead guilty to second-degree murder and receive sentences of nearly 10 years in prison.
Alan Gell's acquittal came less than two weeks after Darryl Hunt was cleared of all charges in a 1984 rape and killing in Winston-Salem. Hunt, who was found guilty of the murder of Deborah Sykes at two jury trials, was freed in December after a DNA test pinned the crime on another man, who has since confessed.
On that same day, February 6, the state Supreme Court overturned two death sentences, ordering a new trial in one case and a new sentencing in the other.
The state Senate approved a death penalty moratorium bill last year, but the bill was never taken up by the state House.