|Date / Location:||March 5, 1992, Powhatan County, Virginia||Conviction:||Murder in the first degree, Use of a firearm in the commission of a felony|
|Year of Conviction:||1993||Release Date:||Jun-03|
|Sentence:||22 years in prison||Sentence Served:||11 years|
|Real perpetrator found?:||None||Contributing cause to wrongful conviction:||Witholding of essential evidence, False confession, Tunnel vision, Police Misconduct|
Beverly Monroe spent 11 years trying to prove her innocence and clear her name. Convicted of murdering her longtime boyfriend, Monroe, like so many others, was the victim of police tunnel vision. Convinced that she was the real criminal, police ignored evidence that the murder really was a suicide and withheld that essential evidence from Monroe and her defense team.
On the morning of March 5, 1992, Monroe arrived at the home of her boyfriend and found him dead on a sofa, holding his own handgun. It appeared that he had shot himself in the head with his own gun. The death was initially ruled a suicide, and the crime scene was processed as such.
Officer David Riley was then assigned to the case. Riley believed that the death was not the result of a suicide, but rather a homicide. Ignoring all other evidence, Riley focused his investigation exclusively on Monroe. He questioned her numerous times, manipulating her in an effort to obtain a confession. Riley tried to convince Monroe that she had been present at the time of death but had blocked the memory because of the trauma of the suicide. Monroe repeatedly told Riley that she was not there and had not fallen asleep after dinner as Riley theorized. Despite her consistent protestations, Riley questioned Monroe for eight hours, until she told him that she possibly had fallen asleep after dinner and blocked the memory. Riley tape-recorded part of the interrogation. Monroe continued to question the detective’s theory that she had blocked her memories. The day after her eight-hour interrogation, Monroe called Riley, telling him that she may have been confusing memories of her time spent with the deceased. Riley, without Monroe’s knowledge, recorded this conversation.
Riley continued to pressure Monroe, asking her to meet him at a park to discuss the case. Hoping to get a signed confession, Riley gave Monroe an outline of the case against her, offered her a fake plea bargain, and told her that if she was found guilty, she would not be able to see or contact anyone, including her three children. By the end of this meeting, Riley had convinced Monroe to sign a statement that she had fallen asleep and was in the house when the death occurred. After this “confession” was obtained, Monroe was arrested for murdering her boyfriend.
In November 1992, Monroe went to trial. The Commonwealth of Virginia introduced evidence that, based on the position in which the deceased was found, he could not have shot himself. They also had a witness, Zelma Smith, who claimed that Monroe had tried to buy a gun from her earlier that year. The Commonwealth portrayed Monroe as a jealous girlfriend, angry that her boyfriend was having a child with another woman. Additionally, the Commonwealth presented the “confession” that Riley had Monroe sign. Despite defense evidence showing the death to be a suicide, Monroe was found guilty of first-degree murder and using a firearm in the commission of a felony. She was sentenced to 22 years in prison.
After Monroe was convicted, her daughter Katie – a lawyer who worked for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights – assembled a team of new lawyers to take on her mother’s case. Monroe filed for a writ of habeas corpus, arguing that the Commonwealth had illegally suppressed evidence, resulting in an unfair trial. Monroe’s petition listed more than ten pieces of evidence that the Commonwealth had withheld, including: (1) a deal made with Zelma Smith in exchange for her testimony; (2) witnesses who had seen a dark car driving away from the decedent’s house the night of his death; (3) a statement from the decedent’s groundskeeper, who had moved the gun upon finding the body; (4) medical documents ruling the death a suicide; and (5) notes taken by two women who observed her eight-hour interrogation by Riley, which supported Monroe’s contention that she had been manipulated and maneuvered by Riley.
The habeas corpus petition was granted by the District Court, and in 2002, that decision was upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and the United States Supreme Court. In June 2003, Monroe was freed when the prosecutor announced that he would not retry Monroe. Today, Beverly Monroe is spending her time with her three children and her grandson. She has not been compensated for the 11 years she spent in prison. Her daughter Katie runs the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center in Utah and is a former MAIP board member.