In 1983, Darius Duron Elam was sentenced to life in prison for aggravated robbery.
It seems that week after week, stories of individuals being released from prison after years of serving time due to a crime they never committed, are becoming more and more prominent.
This story involving Elam may very well be one of those stories.
Elam has never taken a plea deal. Elam continues to maintain his innocence relative to a crime he claims to never have committed. Elam continues to struggle and fight for his freedom.
Many people have joined in with Elam to assist him on his journey for justice, with the hopes of being exonerated. One of the people who have joined in to help Elam pursue justice has been Tammie Lang Campbell, civil rights activist and Founder of The Honey Brown Hope Foundation, which is a nationally recognized, award-winning organization based out of Texas.
Campbell has become deeply involved in the case and after reviewing the findings, she has pointed out several discrepancies that has caused her to ramp up her demand that Elam be exonerated and released from prison for a crime she believes he did not commit.
“We are calling on the public to stand with Darius Elam; his family; supporters; and attorney, Gary Udashen – former president of the Innocence Project of Texas, in a collective appeal for the court system to expeditiously right this miscarriage of justice,” Campbell declares. “It is disheartening that the so called justice system can expeditiously use DNA to convict, but delay using DNA evidence to exonerate.”
According to Campbell, she states that Elam’s conviction was based on untrustworthy jailed informants’ testimonies and a reported fingerprint on a sheet of paper that was never initially included in the evidence log. This sheet of paper mysteriously appeared in the evidence log and then disappeared all-of-a-sudden after the Houston Police Department (HPD) reportedly destroyed it in 1995. In 2014, post-conviction DNA testing dismissed Elam as a DNA contributor, which means no physical evidence currently links Elam to this crime.
Maintaining his innocence the entire time, Elam has spent 36 years — most of his adult life — in prison here in Texas.
A native of Chicago, Illinois, Elam embarked on his educational journey in Houston at Texas Southern University (TSU). At that point, Elam’s plans for a college degree took a tragic detour from TSU to a maximum-security prison in Rosharon, Texas.
According to court records (Writ NO. 0380350-1 Trial NO. 380350 Submitted by Gary A. Udashen), on May 7, 1983, a gentleman by the name of Richard Bowen was found dead on the campus of Rice University with a fatal gunshot wound to his head.
After Bowen’s murder, police began looking for suspects.
As police continued to look for suspects, Elam was at work one day, and while there, a coworker of his asked him for a ride home from work. While on the way home, his coworker, Clarence Richardson, asked Elam to stop by the Galleria Mall to go shopping. Elam did not know that Richardson was planning to use a credit card that belonged to the man that had been fatally murdered – Richard Bowen.
Not only did Richardson have Bowen’s credit card, he also had the driver’s license of the murdered man in his possession. Richardson had altered the driver’s license by inserting his own photo over Bowen’s picture. After arriving to the Galleria Mall, Richardson selected the items he planned to purchase, and then offered to lend Elam money so he could purchase a pair of shoes. Elam agreed to the loan. After giving the store clerk the altered driver’s license, she identified that the license Richardson had given her was not authentic, so she contacted security.
Both Elam and Richardson were arrested.
That same year, while locked up at the Houston City Jail, two jailhouse informants claimed that Elam admitted to them that he and his partner (Richardson) had committed a robbery and shot the victim. Richardson claimed, and continues to maintain, that he found Bowen’s license and credit card.
As a result, both Elam and Richardson were charged with credit card abuse. Richardson was only given 5 years, but Elam was charged with aggravated robbery and sentenced to life in prison.
Several other key events took place between Elam’s sentencing in 1983 until now.
In 1995, the alleged sheet of paper that allegedly had Elam’s fingerprint on it, was reportedly destroyed by the police that year. However, it wasn’t initially logged in as evidence.
In 2007, while seeking post-conviction due to a lack of DNA evidence tying him to the crime, Elam filed a motion with the original trial court. The court responded that the Houston Police Department (HPD) had destroyed the sheet of paper in 1995. In addition to the sheet not being initially logged with the other evidence, the police only destroyed the questionable sheet of paper, while maintaining the original evidence that had been logged – a bullet, shoes, clothing, fingernail clippings, hair and blood samples.
In 2008, Elam, represented by Gary Udashen, amended his motion and requested that post-conviction DNA testing be done on the original evidence.
In 2014, post-conviction DNA testing was performed on the original logged items of evidence, and that testing concluded a negative finding for Elam’s DNA and excluded his DNA on the fingernail of Bowen, the victim. To date, there is no physical evidence linking Elam to the crime.
In 2017, the State of Texas has passed legislation requiring accountability and transparency in the use of jailhouse informants. Unlike the time when Elam was convicted, now District Attorneys must track all informants and provide the defense with the informant’s entire criminal history and any benefits given for their testimonies.
In 2018, in their continued pursuit of justice, Elam’s attorney, Udashen, filed paperwork in the 232nd District Court of Harris County seeking to vacate Elam’s conviction on the grounds of innocence and new science-DNA testing.
Campbell believes something should be done relative to Elam’s case immediately.
“By agreeing to pay Richardson back at a later date, Elam dispelled intent and motive for being involved in the credit card fraud or identify theft of the deceased,” says Campbell.
Campbell also noted the questionable disparity of sentencing.
“Why did the State rely on testimonies of jailhouse informants to sentence one person, Elam, to life while only sentencing Richardson to 5 years?,” asks Campbell. “This is highly suspicious. According to the State, these informants testified that Elam said he and Richardson robbed and killed the victim. This appears to be a ‘he-said-he-said’ conviction with no physical evidence linked to the accused.”
Inconsistencies aside, DNA evidence routinely overrides other evidence.
Baffled by this undue process, Campbell asks, “How long will the Court drag out justice?”
Campbell went on to say, “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. declared, ‘An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’. As our nation celebrates his birthday and his contribution to our nation, The Honey Brown Hope Foundation is asking the community at large to denounce this miscarriage of justice and demand Elam be exonerated.”
There is a petition online for those who are interesting in seeking justice for Elam. The petition can be found at: https://www.change.org/p/help-free-35-years-falsely-imprisoned-and-misrepresented-darius-elam?fbclid=IwAR3ysknnbh6o27lZmUH0f0v7Vk-RRt5-Yg2eqxXYNmHYrvBjQNu21Qrya4E&use_react=false.