On Thursday, August 16, 1990, I was 21 and living in Amarillo, Texas. I was working for Ideal General Contracting when I received a letter from my father asking me to come home to West Frankfort, Illinois. My employer wrote a check to settle our account, and Vira, my employer's wife, took me to cash my check. After cashing my check, Vira dropped me off on I-40 so I could begin hitchhiking home to my father.

Since it was late in the afternoon when I left Amarillo, I only made it as far as a truck stop outside of town before dark. I spent the night at the truck stop and spent my time trying to get a ride east with one of the truckers. Luck wasn't with me.

At dawn on Friday, August 17, I was walking down the entrance ramp to I-40 East, a truck pulled over and a man named Willard gave me a ride. Willard said he was going to Arkansas and he would give me a ride that far. That day we traveled to Paragould, Arkansas, arriving after dark. Willard suggested that we go have a few drinks and he said I could spend that night in his truck and he would take me to Highway 55 the following morning.

Willard and I stopped at
Dan's Duck Inn where we were refused service by Dan Langston, the owner. He told us to go to another bar that would be more apt to serve us. We went to the other bar and drank alcohol and purchased some beer to go. Willard then drove us to an area where we could camp out that night.

After we had been drinking for a while I noticed Willard had begun to masturbate. He then tried to approach me in a sexual manner. I refused his offer and pushed him into the bed of the truck. Angry at being pushed, Willard grabbed a tire iron and took a swing at me with it. I blocked the blow with my arm and defended myself by striking Willard. I hit him with my fist and hands and when he started to fall he grabbed at my legs and I kicked out at him.

Willard appeared to be unconscious and he had a bloody nose, but I could tell that he was breathing. Being drunk, I made a foolish and impulsive mistake and jumped into his truck and left. I drove to West Frankfort, Illinois, arriving there in the early morning hours of Saturday, August 18, 1990.

I stopped at my cousin's house and told him what had happened and he helped me hide the truck. After we hid the truck, I went to my father's house where my brother's birthday party was being held. Throughout the day and into that night, I was seen by family, friends and neighbors at my father's house.

About a week later, the police found the truck and I learned that Willard was in a coma. Now, I was scared! I chose not to come forward and tell the police what had happened. I thought Willard's coma was a result of our conflict and I felt bad about leaving him there alone, but I was sure I had just knocked him out. What I did not know was that 15-year old James Edward Rogers (a 23-year Paragould Police Department veteran's son) had come across Willard the next morning (Saturday, August 18, 1990). Rogers had attacked, severely beat and robbed Willard. He left Willard close to where I had fought with him in a coma and near death. I also didn't know the Paragould Police Department had an eyewitness to Roger's vicious assault and robbery of Willard.

At about 9:00 p.m. on the day after I left Willard, two local Paragould teenagers, one 13-years old and one 15-years old, went to the police with a bizarre story. They said that at about sunset they had seen a biker dragging a dead woman's body across some train tracks near North Sixth Street. The police, although highly suspicious of the boys' bizarre story went to the area near North Sixth Street but found no evidence of a biker, or a dead woman. The next morning a dog was brought into the area and they discovered not a dead woman nor a biker, but a severely beaten and unconscious elderly man lying amid the tall weeds.

The man was so severely beaten that he went into convulsions when he was moved. He had no identification on him and his pants were unzipped. In a coma, the man was listed as “John Doe” and sent to St. Bernard's Regional Medical Center in Jonesboro, Arkansas.

Lt. John Addison of the Paragould Police Department decided that the two boys' story of the alleged biker and dead woman was in the exact area where “John Doe” was found. He found the story so bizarre that the boys needed further questioning. As he noted in his reports, “Their story appeared so preposterous, that I felt they needed to be interviewed more extensively.”

On Monday, the day after “John Doe” was found, Lt. Addison and Investigator Charles Beall of the Arkansas State Police, with the boys' parents' permission, re-interviewed the boys. They first interviewed 13-year old, Delmer Lee Ward. Ward started out by sticking to the tale of the biker with the dead body. “However,” Addison wrote in his notes, “he subsequently said that this was not the case, that there never was a body being dragged across the trestles...” Ward said that he and 15-year old James Edward Rogers were walking along the train trestle and that Rogers had gone down below the trestle to use the bathroom. Ward claimed that Rogers was confronted by a man who, as he put it, wanted Rogers to “suck his dick.”

Ward said he saw Rogers hit the elderly man at least twice, but later on in his statement, he said he saw Rogers beat the heck out of the old man. Ward said that he and Rogers had made up the earlier story about the biker and the dead body to cover up their involvement in what really happened. Additionally, Ward said that he had seen Rogers stand on top of the old man with a rock in his hands,

Lt. Addison and Beall then interviewed Rogers and, as Addison wrote, “However, he more or less spontaneously made the remark, after having started to cry, that 'I didn't mean to hurt him. I only hit him twice with a rock...'” In Rogers' statement he said he had gone to the bottom of the trestle to urinate when an old man came walking up to him with his fly unzipped and, to quote his official confession, “had his pecker in his hands and wanted him to suck his dick.” He said the old man had tried to chase him and that, using a rock, he had hit the old man several times in the head.

Although the police had a confession and an eyewitness to the assault, neither boy was arrested at that time. Several days later, the elderly man labeled “John Doe,” died from traumatic internal head injuries. Both boys were then given an official police polygraph to ensure that their allegations regarding the circumstances of their encounter with the elderly man were truthful. Both boys passed with flying colors. This meant their confessions were true!

Fifteen-year old James Edward Rogers was then charged with capital murder for his role in the death of the elderly man who was still labeled “John Doe.” Rogers' father, Jack Rogers, who had retired from the local police after 23-years of loyal service, was then allowed to bond the younger Rogers out of jail on a signature bond (requiring no money). This was not only highly unusual, but is

actually against the law in Arkansas where capital murder is not a bailable offense.

During his initial arrest, the police took several items from James Edward Rogers. One of them was a wallet containing identification belonging to a Mr. Willard Williamson. Days after his death, Willard's daughter, Lynda Woolery, was contacted by the Paragould Police Department. She was asked if she would come to the police station to identify a wallet they believed belonged to her father. She and her husband identified the wallet by description and contents. They were told it would be used as evidence to convict James Edward Rogers.

Several days after Willard Williamson's death, another retired Paragould Police Officer, bar owner Dan Langston (21-years on the force), called the police department to tell them he believed the guy they found had been in his bar the previous Friday, August 17, 1990.

A copy of Williamson's driver's license was made and, along with a copy of a picture taken from his wallet, was faxed to the Illinois Police station where Willard's truck had been found.

On September 6, 1990, Don Ward, the father of Delmer Lee Ward, took him back to the police station to “spill his guts” about what happened. Don Ward said his son had told him what really happened in further detail. This new confession was given to Paragould Police Detective J.D. Stephenson in the presence of Ward's father. The boy went into great detail. He described Rogers choking and beating Williamson about the head and shoulders with a rock and a tire tool. This correlated with the coroner's cause of death report. Further, it detailed another new event. Ward said that Rogers had robbed the unconscious man of a lot of money. He also described Willard Williamson's stolen wallet -- the same wallet that had been confiscated from Rogers.

Ward said he saw Rogers hit Williamson in the head and arm at least three times with a tire tool. He also said Rogers had hit the man in the jaw with his fist, and he described hearing a “loud popping sound right along with the guy screaming.” Ward said he felt like throwing up.

“What did you say to Rogers or what did he say to you?” Detective Stephenson asked Ward.

Ward answered, “Rogers said, 'Did you see what I just done?' And I just sat there and I said, 'Yeah.' Rogers goes, 'If you say anything about this, I will shoot you or stab you, either way it goes in the heart.' So that's when I got frightened.”

Ward's father confirmed in the interview that his son had told him about the threat. Asked if there was anything he wanted to add, he answered, “Only that I've never seen him more scared in my life than that particular day.” In the
Arkansas Times, it is further revealed that Ward had good reason to fear 15-year old Rogers's threat. Four years earlier Rogers had shot his own 8-year old cousin, one of Ward's classmates, in the back with a .22 rifle. Eight-year old Nathan Scudder lost his kidney and half of one leg as a result of Rogers' assault on him.

The above quotes are taken directly from the police reports and the boys' confessions. They are in the public records. I can provide copies upon request.

In July 1990, my cousin was in jail in Illinois awaiting drug and shooting charges when he decided to tell a lie in an attempt to get a lighter charge. He told the police in Illinois that I had told him I had killed the guy. Afterward, he gave another statement saying I told him I had only beaten the guy up. However, at this time, neither I, nor my cousin, knew anything about Rogers' and Wards' confessions and Rogers' indictment for capital murder. I still didn't know about them or the circumstances surrounding the discovery of Willard's body until after I was brought back to Arkansas to stand trial for the capital murder of Willard. I was in the courtroom for my first appearance under the assumption that I must be responsible for Willard's death since he was knocked out when I left him that Friday night and stole his truck (August 17, 1990).

When a lady sitting behind me asked me if I was the Denver Mitchell charged with killing Willard Williamson, I felt deep shame, sorrow and guilt. I knew that the man I thought I had killed must have been her father. I was emotionally numb and unprepared for her shocking revelations. She said she knew I had not killed her father. She told me the whole story about the 23-year local police veteran's sons' encounter with her father and that he had previously been charged with capital murder. She told me that I was being used as a scapegoat to save the skin of a policeman's son. Later, I was able to confirm every detail of her story through local newspaper reports about Williamson's death and Rogers' involvement.

I was an uneducated 22-year old who had no previous criminal record. I naively assumed that since I was not guilty, the police had confessions and had actually charged Rogers with Willard's death (for two years he was under indictment but never brought to trial), and that since even the dead man's family knew who was responsible for his murder, that there was no way I could be convicted. Justice would prevail. After all, only guilty people get sent to prison -- at least that's what I was always taught.

The prosecutor argued at my trial that I beat Willard into a coma, resulting in his death, so I could steal his truck. My local public defender, John A. Williams, did nothing to bring forth the previously mentioned evidence to the jury's attention. He failed to call any of the witnesses who could have testified to my whereabouts on Saturday, August 18, 1990. I was in Illinois with family and friends and I had even attended my brother's birthday party. My public defender failed to show that another key witness, bar owner Dan Langston, perjured himself to the jury at my trial. This can be documented with earlier police reports that prove he changed his statement at my trial. After the police talked to the cousin who had implicated me in July 1991, Dan Langston changed his statement about what day he had seen me in his bar with the deceased. Dan Langston had served on the same local police department as 15-year old Rogers' father had for over 20 years. They now had a scapegoat.

My public defender put Rogers and Ward on the stand just long enough for both boys to retract their earlier confessions (without mentioning the contents)and to say they had been coerced by the police into confessing. What my public defender did not tell the jury was that both boys parents were present when they gave the police their confessions. This voids the coercion claim as Rogers' father was a retired police officer. Nor did my public defender tell the jury that Ward had failed to change his confession and eyewitness account against Rogers for the full two years that Rogers was under indictment for capital murder. Only when they could connect a third party to the stolen truck, someone who had no family ties in Arkansas, did the boy's confessions change along with the accounts of several prominent local officials. Only after they had me was the capital murder charge against Rogers dropped.

To make matters even worse, the judge refused to allow Lynda and Bill Woolery (Willard Williamson's children) to testify in front of the jury about identifying their father's wallet -- the very same wallet that had been confiscated from Rogers when he was originally changed with their

father's death. My attorney also failed to notify the prosecutor that my father wanted to testify that I was at home on Saturday, August 18, 1990, with many witnesses, so the judge also refused to allow my father's testimony at my trial.

I'm no attorney and I knew even less about the law then than I do now, but my public defender did nothing to establish my innocence in this case. He seemed to actually make errors that seemed purposeful; errors that actually kept exculpatory evidence out of my trial (like my alibi witnesses and the Woolery's testimony).

My public defender filed the mandatory direct appeal but he raised none of the above issues concerning my innocence. The appeal was denied. I am serving a life sentence in Arkansas where “life” means “life.” The only way I will leave prison is if I get a new trial or the Governor grants me a pardon. I've been in prison since January 3, 1992. If nobody checks the facts and documents I've mentioned here, I could easily be Arkansas's Department of Corrections #100409 for another 40 or 50 years -- if I live that long.

After my conviction, Rhonda Beasley (another daughter of the deceased) went to the police department with Michele Mowbray and discovered the documents that prove Dan and Phyllis Langston's testimony at my trial was perjured and directly conflicted with their previous statements to the police and prove that the police confiscated Willard Williamson's wallet from Rogers. They gave these documents, police reports, and confessions to me.

I have no money, no family in Arkansas, and no attorney. As a result I was forced to file my own post conviction appeal (Rule 37), raising these issues in the same Paragould court I was convicted in. My Rule 37 for post conviction relief was dismissed without a hearing. I wasn't notified of the dismissal until some 30 days beyond the last day I could have filed an appeal to their dismissal. I then had to petition the Arkansas Supreme Court for permission to file a belated appeal. During this time I was granted a motion to file a belated appeal.

A fellow prisoner and good friend, Robert Williford #91357, become interested in my case after realizing I was innocent and began mailing copies of the above mentioned police reports, confessions, witness statement and police logs to various attorneys and politicians throughout Arkansas and several surrounding states. The only response he received was from an attorney named Di Di Sailings, who could offer no help other than to forward the information to her friend and Arkansas Times Editor, Mara Leveritt.

Mara Leveritt wrote an investigative story using the facts surrounding my case. She uncovered many facts that had been unknown to me and that had not been brought out at my trial. She did a much better job of investigating the matter than I could have and her article about my injustice became the front-page cover story of the
Arkansas Times on July 21, 1995.

In December 1995, the Arkansas Supreme Court dismissed my belated appeal because of a technical error that I, an unschooled layman, had made in the abstract brief. The court did not look at any of the evidence, nor did they give me any type of hearing based on the evidence that establishes my innocence. No ruling whatsoever!

If it weren't for my belief in God and my 11-year old daughter, I would have given up several years ago. The frustration and despair and hopelessness of knowing I'm innocent of murder and no one cares enough to even look at these documents or talk with the deceased man's family is at times overwhelming.

In January 1996, with the help of Rhonda Beasley, the victim's daughter, I went before the Executive Clemency Board of the Arkansas Prison System and presented my case of innocence. A board member assured Rhonda and me that he was going to get a full board recommendation asking Governor Tucker to release me by granting executive clemency.

In March 1996, I received notification from the board telling me they were asking the Governor to deny my application. They said I had no basis to even ask for clemency. Confused, I filed an appeal to Governor Tucker, who was being tried on felony charges he was later convicted of. In June 1996, Governor Tucker was convicted of a felony and just days after his conviction, he denied my clemency application.

On my own again, I filed another petition to the courts -- a Habeas Corpus raising my claim of innocence. I presented my constitutional violations the best I knew how and submitted the newly discovered evidence. Although a magistrate said I have factual allegations, because I didn't properly raise my violations in the state court, I was procedurally barred from raising them.

Throughout this time I have not had the help of an attorney. I have been forced to try to learn in a few days with a pittance of resources, the rules and regulations of the law that attorneys take years upon years to learn. In answer to my prayers, however, I now have an attorney who has come to my aid and is trying to help me get my case seen before Governor Huckabee in an effort to obtain my release through executive clemency powers the Governor possesses.

No court in this land has heard the evidence I've come across since my conviction that proves I'm innocent of murder. I've come to the conclusion that what happened to me could happen to anyone caught up in a small town filled with “good 'ol boys.” I've been stripped of my life and liberty but I still believe that this is a great nation and I am praying that God will continue to help me interest people in my case to right what has happened to me and to the victim's family. They have yet to receive justice for the murder of their beloved father.

If you were in my shoes -- if you were innocent of murder yet serving a life sentence in Arkansas -- wouldn't you want someone, anyone, to verify these facts?

For confirmation of the facts of this story, I ask that you please contact one of the people listed below.

William A. McLean
523 W. 3rd Street
Little Rock, Arkansas 72201

Rhonda Beasley
401 Hidden Valley Drive
Paragould, Arkansas 72450

Denver Wayne Mitchell, JR. #100409
Arkansas Department of Correction
Maximum Security Unit
2501 State Farm Road
Tucker, Arkansas 72168