Evidence Points at Prosecution’s “Star Witness” - The Ronnie Wilson Story

By Donna J. Strong

Edited by Barbara Jean McAtlin, JD Staff

Justice:Denied magazine, Issue 24, page 4

The following account outlines numerous problems with the case against Ronnie Lee Wilson. The facts of this case show that Wilson is wholly innocent of the crime for which he was convicted. Wilson has spent over 10 years in prison (plus an additional two years in custody in Gregg County prior to trial) as the result of a judicial process fraught with serious flaws and omissions.

The crime and investigation

April 30, 1984 -- Longview, Texas: Jerry and Brenda Morgan and their son, Devin, are murdered in their home. Although the police department and the district attorney’s office tried to link their killings to drug activities at trial, there is nothing to indicate that the Morgan’s had any connection to drugs. Nothing of any value was stolen from the house; the only missing items were a heart-shaped necklace said to have been worn by Brenda Morgan, and the Morgan’s car. The car was found thirty miles away in Tyler, Texas, the next morning. No murder weapon was found, and there were no suspect fingerprints at the scene or in the car. The only forensic evidence recovered from the scene consisted of African-American hairs found on a towel under Brenda Morgan’s head (both defendants are Anglo, as were the victims), and other hair and blood samples, and fingerprints. None of the forensic evidence matched the suspects or the prosecution’s alleged eyewitness, Cynthia May Kelly (now Cynthia May Cummings).

Winter 1985 -- Detective Sgt. Roy Bean of the Longview Police Department (LPD) came across Cynthia May (Kelly) Cummings and her husband at the time, Alvin Kelly. Detective Sgt. Bean arrested the couple on outstanding warrants. The investigation into the Morgan murders was still active and all detectives and police personnel were asked to pursue information about the case with all suspects. When asked about the case, Cummings volunteered information to Bean about her involvement in the murder of the couple’s roommate, John Ford, which had taken place seventeen days after the Morgan had been murdered. Cummings also said she had information about the Morgan murders. Bean was convinced Cummings had been there because of her knowledge of certain details that should have been known only to someone involved in the crime. Bean turned this information over to Henry Mize and Jim Nelson, the two Longview homicide detectives in charge of the Morgan investigation. Bean said neither detective interviewed Cummings after receiving this information. Bean also said he spoke with First Assistant District Attorney Clement Dunn outside the interrogation room where Cummings sat shortly after her arrest. Bean told Dunn about Cummings’ knowledge of the Morgan murders. Though Bean said he does not know whether Dunn made a deal with Cummings, he noted that shortly after Dunn interviewed her, Cummings was released from jail and went to Michigan. According to Bean, at no time did Cummings mention Ronnie Lee Wilson. Cummings and her boyfriend in Michigan, Chris Vickery,  periodically contacted Bean throughout 1986 asking about immunity in the Ford case in exchange for her purported information on the Morgan case. All interviews and conversations were taped as per policy.

Nothing of note occurred in the investigation for six years. In 1990, Vickery contacted the Gregg County District Attorney’s Office and told them Cummings was ready to come forward and give a statement about her “knowledge” of the crime. Her information would implicate Ronnie Lee Wilson as well as her now ex-husband Alvin Andrew Kelly. Bean, who had had the most contact with Cummings, was never called to testify in either the Wilson or Kelly trials nor was he contacted by the DA’s office about the information he had  for either trial. The prosecution suppressed this critical information and neither Wilson nor his defense attorney, Greg Neeley, or Kelly’s defense team, knew about it until 1998. The LPD recently told representatives of the Office of the Attorney General that these suppressed tapes and files, which were specifically requested by Kelly’s new appellate attorney, are missing.

Sequence of important events and conflicts

April 30, 1984 -- According to the pathologist’s report, Jerry, Brenda and Devin Morgan are murdered between 6 and 9 p.m. When their bodies were found the next morning, Jerry and Brenda were still in their work clothes, there was no evidence of a dinner having been prepared or eaten, and no lights were on in their trailer house. A neighbor told police she saw an African-American male driving away from the Morgan home in their car between 7:30 and 8 p.m. (it was daylight saving time and still light out). This report was noted at trial. Also, a police official in White Oak contacted the LPD to let them know that he had received a report of two black males sighted in the Morgan’s car that same evening. In Tyler, Texas, thirty miles from Longview, a Chevy Silverado pickup belonging to Kimberly Boswell is reported stolen from Saunders Street.

May 1, 1984 -- Morning: The Morgan’s car is found thirty miles away in Tyler, Texas. Other than the victim’s, no fingerprints are found on the car. The Morgan’s car was recovered one block from where the Chevy Silverado had been stolen.

May 7, 1984 -- The stolen Chevy Silverado is located in Grand Prairie, Texas, in the possession of two African-American males, Fredrick Anthony Edney (King) and James Brown. The pick-up is processed for physical evidence by a Sgt. T. Jackson. The two were  interviewed about the murders by police officials. After they were interviewed, they were released and never considered again. The evidence taken from the stolen vehicle included: linens, a man’s wristwatch, assorted tools, black sunglasses, hair samples, vacuuming samples and a woman’s gold flying heart necklace.

May 14, 1984 -- The coincidence of the Silverado theft just blocks from the Morgan’s car recovery site is noted. Investigators decide to show the necklace that had been recovered from the stolen vehicle (which matches the description of one reported missing from the murder scene) to Brenda Morgan’s relatives. Brenda Morgan’s sister, Cindy McGrede Watts, and father, Robert Don McGrede, identified the necklace as Brenda’s. Cindy Watts said that her sister always wore three necklaces and that the floating heart was one of them. Robert McGrede said he remembered Brenda “always” wearing the necklace.

May 15, 1984 -- Betty McGrede, Brenda Morgan’s mother, said she remembered her daughter having a necklace of the type she had looked at the day before. Cindy Watts showed Sgt. Jackson a necklace she owned that was identical to the one Brenda had. Photos were taken of Watts’ necklace. To date, Brenda’s necklace has not been found.

May 16, 1984 -- The evidence recovered from the stolen pick-up is delivered to the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences. The necklace, towels and hair were not tested at that time, however, the hair samples and the necklace are being tested for DNA in conjunction with Alvin Kelly’s case. The testing may provide a link between the hairs and the driver and/or the passenger in the stolen pickup and between the necklace and Brenda Morgan.

Pre-trial background

September 1990 -- Assistant District Attorney Becky Simpson and District Attorney Investigator Russell Potts visited Cummings in Michigan to discuss her participation in the upcoming Wilson and Kelly trials. Cummings provided one informal unrecorded statement, a second written statement that was used to obtain indictments and yet a third statement that was used at the trials. Cummings’ account of the crime was the bulk of the prosecution’s case. Questionable supporting testimony will come from Alvin Kelly’s brother, Steve. Alvin Kelly was sentenced to thirty years for the Ford murder. In December 1990, Kelly is transferred from TDCJ to Gregg County and charged with the Morgan murders. Wilson, who was in the county jail at that time for bond revocation on a charge of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, was informed he is also being charged with the Morgan murders. LPD Investigators Potts and Chuck Willeford interviewed Wilson in jail and tried to convince him to implicate Kelly before Kelly implicates him, an offer Wilson declines, telling them he was not involved. Wilson asked to speak to his lawyer and the conversation ends.

Cummings’ second written statement to prosecutors clearly conflicts with her 1985 statement to Bean and her first written statement to prosecutors. The information in the second statement was used at Kelly’s trial and he was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death November 1991. That same statement was used in Wilson’s trial to implicate him in the crime for which he received sixty-six years on April 1992. Initially, Wilson was convicted of murder with the use a deadly weapon. Wilson’s attorney had the deadly weapon charge overturned on appeal because of incorrect directions to the jury and Cummings’ testimony that Wilson shot none of the victims. The second statement and testimony from Cummings upon which the prosecution based its case is rife with inconsistencies, irregularities, and obvious untruths, primarily concerning Wilson’s involvement.

The reopening of the Morgan case riveted the community. Wilson’s trial came on the heels of Alvin Kelly’s trial for capital murder of a child and his subsequent death sentence. Judge Alvin Koury denied the request of Wilson’s attorney for a change of venue. During Kelly’s trial, Cummings was sequestered in a state apartment with her sister under close scrutiny of state officials and was taking prescription narcotics for her drug addiction. According to Cummings’ sister, state officials made promises not to prosecute Cummings for her part in the Ford or Morgan murders. Such a tacit agreement, and the numerous conflicting statements Cummings made to relatives over the years, cast significant doubt on Cummings “voluntary” participation and credibility. Cummings’ varying statements to prosecutors contain numerous discrepancies, inconsistencies, and untruths, but the defense was never allowed to question Cummings’ credibility. Much of the information surfaced after conviction through interviews conducted in Kelly’s state appeals phase by defense investigators Barry Higginbotham and Jimmy Lancaster. Among the more serious credibility issues are:

John Ford murder: Rickey Kelly, Alvin Kelly’s brother, signed an affidavit in 1998 that says he overheard Cummings tell his mother and his wife, prior to 1989, that she had killed John Ford. Rickey Kelly said he relayed this information to prosecutors Willeford and Potts prior to Alvin’s trial and said that they “seemed not to want to hear this information.”

Non-prosecution agreement: Cummings’ sister, Beverly Stemen, said that during a conversation with Simpson and Potts, she had asked whether or not Cummings might be prosecuted or go to jail for her involvement in the crime and was assured no action would be taken against Cummings. This was confirmed by Cummings in a subsequent conversations with her sister after Cummings’ return from Texas. In a later conversation with defense investigators, Stemen said that prosecutors told her not to worry, because, even though they were not giving Cummings immunity, they were not going to prosecute her.

Cummings involvement in the Morgan murders: In October 1997, a defense investigator interviewed Cummings’ sister, Violet Brownfield, who told him that in 1985 Cummings had said she had killed Jerry Morgan with a gun. Stemen told the investigator that Cummings had told her the same thing. She said she relayed this information to Potts and Simpson immediately afterward but they “did not seem concerned” with it and “told her that it was irrelevant.”

Wilson trial evidence problems

The addition of Ronnie Lee Wilson as an accomplice

According to Bean, Wilson’s name was never mentioned by Cummings in her 1985 statement to him nor in any subsequent conversations with him. In affidavits of conversations concerning the crime prior to Cummings’ 1990 statement, a number of relatives and acquaintances of the Cummings and Kelly verify that neither Cummings nor Kelly mentioned Wilson. Cummings and Steve Kelly could not even properly describe Wilson when questioned by defense attorneys prior to trial.

Lack of solid motive

Cummings testified that she had no idea where she, Kelly, and Wilson, were going, or the purpose of their trip to the Morgan’s. The prosecution claimed the murders were drug related and tried to portray Wilson and Kelly as “collectors” for Walter W. Shannon who was convicted in 1998 of delivery of a controlled substance. However, Shannon’s wife testified at Wilson’s trial that she and her husband thought Wilson was an informant, or “cop,” and refused to have any contact or dealings with him. Additionally, Shannon was under indictment at the time of the murders and not running any drug activities from his home as Cummings and Steve Kelly claim. Though the killings may have been random, recent information turned over to Kelly’s appellate lawyer may back up the drug-related aspect. In an interview with officials after the case was reopened and prior to the trials, Jerry Morgan’s father said he believed that Jerry and his family were murdered because Jerry knew who had committed a 1983 murder and abduction in Kilgore and was telling everyone. His father noted that it is possible Jerry might not have had any concept of how dangerous that knowledge could be.

Alleged visit to the Morgan home on day of the murders

Cummings said she, Kelly and Wilson stopped by the Morgan’s trailer on April 30 between the hours of 3 and 4 p.m. Cummings claimed there were three cars in the driveway and people moving around inside the trailer. Cummings said Wilson went to the door, knocked and spoke calmly to a man who she said she thought was Jerry Morgan. But records show that both Brenda and Jerry were at work all day April 30. Jerry Morgan’s mother also testified that the two were at work all day; she was babysitting their son, Devin, and Jerry had picked him up after work sometime between 5:30 and 5:45. Brenda left work at 6 p.m. This testimony and the work records successfully contradict Cummings’ story.

Conflicts in account of post-murder activities

In Cummings’ statement taken in September 1990, she says Kelly told her to drive their truck and follow him and Wilson in the Morgan’s car to a wrecking yard outside Longview. She said that Kelly then told her to go home. She claims she did not see Kelly or Wilson until the following morning (May 1) when they pulled up with the Morgan’s car on a tow truck. This statement was used to indict Wilson in 1990 but was never allowed into court for the trial. In a deposition hearing eleven months later, Cummings claimed that, rather than driving to the wrecking yard, the three of them drove the Morgan’s car to Tyler, Texas, and then, after wiping it clean of fingerprints, abandoned it a block behind Mother Francis Hospital.

The wrecker/tow truck omission

The “information” about the tow truck was not revealed to the defense in either trial and it directly conflicts with Cummings’ second statement and testimony. Had the prosecution revealed this information during the trial, Wilson’s defense attorney could have tried to verify or disprove Cummings’ story about the wrecker.

Time frame inconsistencies

Cummings claimed Wilson was in her presence from the morning of April 30 through the afternoon of May 2. The first inconsistency with this claim arises when looking at her account of the time of the murders. She said she, Kelly, and Wilson arrived at the Morgan’s home at 9 p.m. However, autopsy reports indicate that the victims had no food in their stomachs; this strongly indicates they were killed before eating dinner. Also, no lights were on in the trailer when the victims were found. A sister testified that she had called the house sometime between 7:30 and 8 p.m. and became concerned when she got no answer. Three alibi witnesses at Wilson’s trial testified that he was at the Good Shepherd Hospital in Longview with his mother and stepfather between the hours of 2-5 p.m. on April 30 (when he was supposed to be in Rusk, Texas, with the Kellys). There was also testimony that placed Wilson at his parents’ home the evening and night of April 30. A new alibi witness has come forward to verify this information. Finally, on the afternoon of May 2, when Wilson was allegedly in Waco and Rusk with the Kellys, he received a speeding citation from the Longview Police Dept. at 2:42 p.m. (this was verified by an NCIC inquiry).

Suppression of prior interviews, conversations and evidence tapes

The critical evidence of tapes and records of prior contacts with Bean was suppressed by the DA’s office. Defense attorney Greg Neeley tried to obtain copies but was told the materials could not be found. The 1985 materials of Cummings’ prior contacts with officials may well have provided critical impeachment/exculpatory evidence.

Perjury by Cummings about contact with officials prior to trial

Cummings perjured herself by denying that she had ever spoken with officials prior to her contact with the DA’s office in 1990. In 1998, Bean signed an affidavit attesting to his interviews and conversations with Cummings in 1985. These discussions were taped as per LPD directives and would have been readily available to prosecutors. ADA Dunn (the person Bean directed to Cummings in 1985) sat in the audience at Wilson’s trial and said nothing during Cummings’ false testimony.

Cummings’ assertion no deal was made with prosecutors

Despite her self-confessed involvement in the Ford murder, and her subsequent implication of herself in the Morgan murders, Cummings is a free woman who apparently needs not to fear prosecution for her involvement in these crimes. Though it may be technically true that no formal deal was made (i.e.: no immunity officially offered), there is clear evidence that a tacit agreement to not pursue prosecution for her involvement in the cases existed. Also, Cummings clearly qualified for an “accomplice witness” designation but the trial judge declined to qualify her as such. Cummings claimed she and Wilson participated because they feared for their lives and that Wilson’s sole participation was carrying stolen items from the house. Cummings herself admits helping dispose of the stolen car and wiping it for fingerprints. Assisting in an ongoing crime makes her as culpable as she claims Wilson was since she claims they were both acting under equal duress. Had she been designated as an accomplice witness, her cooperation would have protected her from future charges for her part in the Morgan murders and/or the Ford murder.

Pressure, coercion, perjury

Since the trial, a number of witnesses have said Cummings had admitted to them that she lied under oath because she was frightened. According to one witness, Cummings feared being charged with the Ford murder if she did not cooperate in the Wilson and Kelly trials. Kelly’s sister, Nancy, and her husband, said Cummings expressed her fears of personal injury and retaliation in a 1998 visit and warned the Browns about “asking too many questions.”

False testimony about Wilson’s vehicle

At the time of the murders, Wilson drove a 1981 black and silver Chevy truck (verified by GMAC loan records). He was in this truck when he received the traffic citation on May 1. However, Cummings testified that the only vehicle she had ever seen Wilson drive was an “old, little, white car” which she claims he was driving April 30- May 2. This story about a white car was never pursued and the information never verified. Information has recently surfaced, though, that a small white car would have been familiar to Cummings -- her former roommate, John Ford, purportedly drove an older white Ford Falcon.

The missing murder weapon

Cummings testified that Wilson was at no time in possession of a gun. She claims that Kelly had the only gun, a .22 revolver. The conflict of the number of total gunshots (7) versus the alleged murder weapon, a 6-shot revolver, is never addressed. Other than these examples, there is little known about the murder weapon. Though specific handguns were alluded to by the prosecution at trial, none were shown to be the murder weapon.

More questionable weapon testimony

At Wilson’s trial, witness Sam Little, taking the place of his wife, Pat, relayed her story that Wilson told them one of the two guns he had given them had been used in the Morgan murders. Little claimed he turned the guns over to a local police chief but the chief testified that he was told the guns were not related to the Morgan murders. The chief inspected the guns and returned them to Little. At the time, the Littles were under investigation for criminal activities and were acting as informants actively gathering information on local drug activities for law enforcement authorities. They admitted their informant status was common knowledge to many people in the community, including Wilson, who was an old family friend. Also, a witness was willing to testify in Wilson’s trial that Pat Little told him she lied in her deposition about the gun and was “sorry she got involved in Wilson’s case.”

Conflicts in gunshot testimony

Cummings testified that she saw Kelly shoot Brenda and Devin Morgan at close range. However, a forensic expert testified that there were no powder burns around the wounds on either victim. There is also no evidence that Devin was shot in the living room and then placed by his father in another room. Cummings’ story was not corroborated by forensics and there is no report of the child’s blood in the living room or the hallway to the other room.

Corroborating testimony problems

Steve Kelly told family members he gave untruthful testimony to convict his brother, Alvin. He said prosecutors had told him they knew he had helped get rid of John Ford’s car and that they could implicate him in the murder. Steve also testified that a few days prior to the Morgan murders, he went with Wilson and Alvin to a brick home in Longview. Steve said he heard shouting and went to the backyard where he said he saw his brother kick and pistol whip Jerry Morgan. However, the coroner testified that there were no injuries on Jerry consistent with such a beating. Family members testified there were no injuries or evidence of trauma to Jerry or his wife when the two attended a family event at his mother’s house the Sunday prior to the murders. Steve said at Wilson’s trial that he, Wilson, and Alvin Kelly, had gone to a home in Rusk a few days before the killings and he said he remembered a lamp in the living room was on when they arrived. However, testimony at Alvin’s trial established that the electricity to the house in Rusk had been terminated from April 4, 1984 until January 1985. Two neighbors testified that it did not appear that anyone lived in this house after April 4, 1984. Cummings claimed she returned to this same house and took a bath after the Morgan murders. At trial, Steve Kelly admitted lying in the statement he had given police, and after the trial he told a number of people that he lied about his brother’s involvement. he told one person, “I turned state’s evidence against my brother for a crime he didn’t do.”

Rickey Kelly impeachment information

Alvin Kelly’s other brother, Rickey, signed an affidavit in 1998 saying that he had been approached by prosecutors Potts and Willeford who said they would get rid of pending criminal charges against him if he would give them information leading to his brother’s conviction. Rickey said he offered information concerning Alvin’s innocence but the investigators were not interested.

There are many, many inconsistencies and discrepancies in the state’s case against Wilson that warrant serious review. It is not enough to simply dismiss such inconsistencies by saying the jury heard the evidence and made their decision. Juries are made up of humans who are capable of mistakes -- especially when deprived of all the evidence -- a fact demonstrated quite effectively by the number of wrongful convictions being overturned. As a society we fail ourselves when we adopt the position that factual innocence is no barrier to a sentence “properly arrived at.” Eyewitness testimony -- the sole evidence in Wilson’s case -- is being scrutinized more closely now than ever before in innocence cases. As noted by Rob Warden, journalist and Executive Director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University, “Erroneous eyewitness testimony -- whether offered in good faith or perjured -- no doubt is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions in the U.S. criminal justice system.” On May 2, 2001, the Center presented a study in which staff members “identified and analyzed 70 cases in which 84 men and two women had been sentenced to death but legally exonerated based on strong claims of actual innocence since capital punishment was restored following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1972 decision in Furman v. Georgia.” The full study and results can be found at: http://www.law.nwu.edu/wrongfulconvictions/eyewitnessstudy.htm. Ronnie Wilson can be written at:

Ronnie Lee Wilson #612315
Ramsey I Unit
1100 FM 655
Rosharon, TX  77583

Ronnie Wilson’s outside contact is::
Donna J. Strong
Student Publications, Del Mar College
101 Baldwin Blvd., Corpus Christi, TX  78404
Day Phone: (361) 698-1246
e-mail: dstrong@delmar.edu or
e-mail: djstrong@worldnet.att.net