Gary Wayne Drinkard

The high price of a debt-collection lawyer

Gary Wayne Drinkard was sentenced to death in 1995 for the robbery and murder of a 65-year-old automotive junk dealer in Decatur, Alabama, two years earlier.

The conviction rested primarily on the testimony of Drinkard's half-sister, who faced charges in an unrelated robbery. In exchange for her testimony, all charges against her were dismissed. Her common-law husband also testified that Drinkard had admitted the murder.

At his trial, Drinkard was represented by two lawyers who specialized in debt collection and foreclosures. They failed to present the testimony of two physicians who would have testified that Drinkard had recently suffered a severe back injury that made it physically impossible for him to commit the crime.

In 2000, two years after the Court of Criminal Appeals of Alabama affirmed the conviction, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for a new trial based on prosecutorial misconduct. At Drinkard's 2001 retrial, lawyers from the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta established that Drinkard had been at home at the time of the murder, and he was acquitted.

Case data

Jurisdiction: Morgan County, Alabama
Date of crime: August 18, 1993
Date of arrest: September 1, 1993
Charge: Capital murder (during first-degree robbery)
Sentence: Death
Release date: May 25, 2001
Months wrongfully incarcerated: 92
Age at time of arrest: 37
Defendant race: Caucasian
Race of victim(s): Caucasian
Defendant prior felony record: None (although evidence of alleged involvement in a series of thefts was admitted during the sentencing phase of his trial)
Known factors leading to wrongful conviction: Testimony of incentivized witness, ineffective assistance of counsel, judicial error
Did an appellate court ever affirm conviction? Yes
Exonerated by: Acquittal at retrial
Compensation for wrongful imprisonment: None as of January 2003

— Rob Warden