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Exonerated after 22 years on death row, wrongly convicted man tells his story

OMAHA, Neb. (The Catholic Voice) - Curtis McCarty spent half of his life in prison - most of that time on death row - for a murder he did not commit.

EXONERATED - Curtis McCarty speaks to students at College of Saint Mary in Omaha last month. He was released from death row because of DNA evidence that found him not guilty of a 1982 murder.

EXONERATED - Curtis McCarty speaks to students at College of Saint Mary in Omaha last month. He was released from death row because of DNA evidence that found him not guilty of a 1982 murder.

On Feb. 21, McCarty talked about being wrongfully convicted and spending 22 years in prison to a crowded room of College of Saint Mary students. McCarty’s visit to Omaha was sponsored by Witness to Innocence, a non-profit organization founded by Sister Helen Prejean, author of “Dead Man Walking.”

McCarty, who was released from prison May 11, 2007, had given only one public presentation about his case and exoneration prior to his talk at the College of Saint Mary. His story and degree of self-awareness captivated the attention of the audience. Several forensic science students stayed afterward to learn more and to view his pictures.

McCarty is one of more than 125 wrongfully accused people exonerated through DNA evidence from death row in the United States since the mid-1970s. He was convicted of the 1982 murder of Pamela Willis largely on the basis of fraudulent forensic evidence analyzed by Joyce Gilchrist, the chief forensic chemist for the state of Oklahoma.

McCarty and independent investigations by the FBI and the Innocence Project declared that Gilchrist committed perjury by lying about the forensic evidence and tampering with records.

His darkest days

McCarty described the revelation in 2001 that the FBI proved Gilchrist also had falsified forensic evidence in the case of his friend, Billy Fox, who had been executed by the state of Oklahoma just days before, as the “darkest moment that I endured.”

McCarty’s story raises fundamental questions about the death penalty.

“There is no dishonor in telling the truth,” McCarty advised students, referring to Gilchrist’s lies that led to his incarceration.

Raised in a military family, McCarty trusted the U.S. legal system and was “scared yet hopeful” when he initially faced first-degree murder charges. He knew he was innocent, believed in the integrity of the judicial system, and was certain that the truth would prevail in his case.

Death penalty not a deterrent

When asked if men he met on death row who were convicted of heinous crimes such as serial murders and rapes should be executed, McCarty responded that the prospect of the death penalty does not deter crime because criminals don’t believe they will be caught. Furthermore, he described conditions in prison as being more torturous than execution itself.

The U.S. Catholic bishops, in communion with the papacy, have a long tradition of calling for the replacement of the death penalty with life imprisonment without parole. In their most recent teaching on the subject - the 2005 pastoral letter “Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death” - the U.S. bishops echo earlier teaching that the death penalty is unfairly applied, violates the principle of human dignity, degrades all in society, and is not necessary in a system where criminals can be imprisoned without endangering the rest of society.

McCarty said he can never regain the 22 years he spent in prison, but his commitment to educating others about the death penalty is a way for him to share his personal story and to remind others of the horror of the death penalty.


This story was made available to Catholic Online by permission of the Catholic Explorer(, official newspaper of the Diocese of Joliet, Ill.



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1 - 3 of 3 Comments

  1. J. D. Pyle
    2 years ago

    Unfortunately for Mr. McCarty, the "truth" told about him was a fabrication based on faulty and unethical investigative and interrogation techniques, falsified laboratory test results, and the age-old "let's find a scape-goat" process that happens everytime a high profile person (in this case the daughter of a law enforcement officer) is killed. As an investigator myself I can verify that many, perhaps most, investigators do not actively utilize a scientific approach. Rather, due to bad habits, misconceptions, lack of time, etc., they tend to gather minimal evidence, talk amongst multiple parties to arrive at (i.e., speculate about) the "likely conclusion". Then they gather additional evidence actively attempting to support/prove the "likely conclusion." Conversely, the scientific investigator gathers facts and evidence, generates multiple hypotheses, and then attempts to rule out each hypothesis. This involves actively attempting to disprove that all persons of interest and suspects committed the crime at hand. However, in the case of McCarty, the records showed that investigators and law enforcement had few leads so they spent the majority of their time actively attempting to prove his guilt, as opposed to trying to disprove his guilt (in science one can only disprove hypotheses). Using this highly biased, nonscientific approach caused them to either consciously or unconsciously ignore the numerous facts of the case that corroborated McCarty's statements. The case against McCarty was further biased by falsified lab test results (were law enforcement officials or prosecutors pressuring her?). And the case was further twisted into a fabrication because the prosecutor was serving in the capacity of a politician with an ego-driven agenda, as opposed to serving as a trained attorney attempting to uphold the law of the land. Regarding the other girls mentioned, the act of trying to tie a suspect to additional unsolved cases is common practice when a case is weak. This is strictly hearsay. At least coerced or solicited false testimony from jailmates was not presented as also unfortunately occurs with many other weak or meritless cases and resulting in wrongful convictions.

  2. robert mcgee
    5 years ago

    I want to start off by saying that I'm Mr. McCartys cousin and I never knew about him until after I turned 16. We had a house fire and while getting stuff out of the attic I ran across newspaper articles and read them. Just from what the paper had writen he looked innocent as he is of this crime. Reguardless of the other crimes he is a good guy and for the record, HE NEVER CONFESSED TO THE CRIME OF MURDERING PAM! He did admit to being there the night before the murder. He may be guilty of the other things but who am I to judge much less you judge. Are you God? I didnt think so. Eddie is not the man you make him out to be. He now spends all his free time to help other who are the scapegoats of society and are not guilty of the crimes they have been accused of. So next time you feel like talking about somebody maybe you should take a look in the mirror before you judge another.

  3. Tellthetruth
    6 years ago

    Curtis Edward (Eddie) McCarty is a murdering, raping, lying POS. Please investigate the murder of Janelle Fowler. She was 7 years old when she was raped and murdered with a baseball bat. After two months, Curtis Edward McCarty took the police to her body in exchange for testifying against his accomplice. If McCarty wasn't involved in that murder, how did he know where this poor little girl's battered, decayed body was hidden? He says his friend killed the little girl and then forced him to drive around with her body in McCarty's trunk for a couple of days before McCarty finally got rid of the body.

    McCarty was also convicted for raping a 14 year old girl in a brutal, hours long rape. Her family agreed to a negotiated plea that kept the girl from testifying. They thought this best because he was already in prison for murdering poor Pam.

    McCarty originally lied about where he was the night Pam died. When someone proved his lies wrong, he started admitting he was in Pam's house the night she died, but his friend murdered her and then forced him to keep it quiet. Sound familiar? Anyway, she was murdered with a very unusual rope that was manufacturered at McCarty's employment. McCarty's fingerprints were in her house. He confessed the murder to other people. I could go on. The judge literally cried on the bench when she let McCarty out because she said she was sure that he was involved in Pam's murder. But, the evidence was damaged/lost/forged I don't know what, and because that threw all the evidence into question, she had to let him out.

    A dangerous predator who likes to rape young girls is out on the streets. He's making all these statements because he hopes our memories aren't that long and he can get a payday from the state for "wrongful imprisonment". What a joke.

    The sad part to me is that people like this group don't even bother to thoroughly investigate his story before deciding to support him. They just run to go support the raping, murdering pedophile. Shame on each and every one of you.

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