Cases – Freed Clients – Terry Talley

Terry Talley

Terry Talley Exonerated After Nearly 40 Years Wrongful Imprisonment!

February 23, 2021

Today, Terry Talley walked out of Dooly State Prison a free man after Georgia Innocence Project, LaGrange Police Chief Lou Dekmar, and Coweta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Herb Cranford, Jr. all agreed Terry never should have been convicted of a number of violent sexual assaults in 1981. Terry has fought to prove his innocence for 40 years, and GIP has worked on his case for over a decade: securing DNA testing that proved his innocence, uncovering suppressed evidence and official misconduct, and reinvestigating the case, at times in partnership with LaGrange Police Department – all culminating in four exonerations and Talley’s freedom!  

Terry Talley, upon his release from prison.

Case Info

Conviction Factors

Official Misconduct

Tainted & Flawed Eyewitness Identifications 

Under-resourced Defense Counsel

Racial Bias / Systemic Racism

Evidence Loss & Destruction

Troup

County

1981

Convictions

Almost 40

Years Served

Exoneration Cases

Case 1

Date of Crime: 02/07/1981

Race of Victim: White

Charges: Aggravated Assault

Date of Conviction: 11/11/1981

Method of Conviction: Plea

Sentence: 10 years

Case 2

Date of Crime: 02/21/1981

Race of Victim: White

Charges: Aggravated Assault, Aggravated Sodomy

Date of Conviction: 11/11/1981

Method of Conviction: Plea

Sentence: Life x 2

Case 3

Date of Crime: 04/19/1981

Race of Victim: White

Charges: Aggravated Assault, Rape

Date of Conviction: 11/09/1981

Method of Conviction: Trial

Sentence: Life + 10 years

Case 4

Date of Crime: 06/24/1981

Race of Victim: White

Charge: Aggravated Assault, Rape

Date of Conviction: 11/11/1981

Method of Conviction: Trial

Sentence: Life + 10 years

* Rape Kit DNA Evidence Excluded Talley in 2009

Case Summary

Troup County, Georgia

Troup County, GA | 1981

Terry Talley spent. roughly 40 years wrongfully imprisoned for several crimes he did not commit.

How does an innocent Black man get convicted of a series of brutally violent crimes that he did not commit? The answer lies in the power of tainted eyewitness identification, a blinding determination by the State to convict, and systemic racial bias. Add to that an under-resourced public defender system, set in the 1980’s Deep South, and you have an infallible recipe for wrongful conviction.

From February through June 1981, five violent sexual assaults took place on campus and in the vicinity of LaGrange College. Almost all of the victims were White women, and similarities across the attacks led investigators to believe the assaults were committed by a sole Black male perpetrator.

Around the same time, several female LaGrange College students filed complaints of inappropriate and threatening behavior by a Black male city employee who spent a lot of time on campus. Gloves found at one of the crime scenes reportedly were the same as the employee’s gloves; the gloves later disappeared. Police suspended and ultimately fired the employee based on his conduct. However, Talley’s trial lawyers were never informed about the employee’s behavior, or the subsequent investigation and termination. Law enforcement also apparently never included the employee in any eyewitness identification procedures shown to the victims or witnesses of the violent assaults, despite being aware of the allegations made against him.

Under immense pressure from the community to solve the crimes, authorities zeroed in on Terry Talley, who was arrested in a separate, unrelated incident involving an attempt to pay for sex. Despite no evidence tying him to the five violent crime scenes, lead investigators from the LaGrange Police Department (LGPD) and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) put him in photographic and in-person lineups for witnesses to identify him.

Talley adamantly denied any role in the serial rape cases. Trials convened only three months later and were characterized by profoundly unreliable eyewitness identifications, rampant official misconduct, and racial bias. In just over 48 hours, Talley was convicted in two separate trials of two different rapes and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences.  Defeated in the realization that his innocence would not lead to his acquittal, Talley then pled to the remaining charges and has been incarcerated for the past 40 years, all the while fighting to prove his innocence.

After accepting Talley’s case in 2004, GIP secured analysis of male DNA collected from one victim’s rape kit, which revealed Talley was not the donor. Troup County Superior Court Judge Baldwin granted Talley a new trial in that case in February 2013, but the underlying indictment was not dismissed. The other serial rape convictions remained intact, and Talley remained imprisoned, stymied by lost or destroyed evidence and shifting State theories. Recently, based on new investigations and with support from LaGrange Police Chief Lou Dekmar, GIP presented Talley’s case for innocence to Coweta Judicial District Attorney Herb Cranford, Jr. who then joined GIP in securing four exonerations on February 23, 2021.

Timeline of Events

February 7, 1981

Victim 1 (White female) was in her dorm room on the LaGrange campus when she was grabbed from behind by a Black male. She struggled with the assailant, who then choked her until she lost consciousness. She awoke with a pillow cover over her head and continued to fight back until the perpetrator left.

Case status: Talley exonerated.

February 21, 1981

Two weeks later in the same dorm, Victim 2 (White female) was awakened in her room around 2:30 a.m. by a Black male who began to choke her. The assailant struck her repeatedly, dislocating her jaw, and held her down while sexually assaulting her. The assailant fled through a window when Victim 2’s roommate knocked on the door. A pair of black gloves was found in the victim’s room.

Case status: Talley exonerated.

April 19, 1981

Victim 3 (White female) reported to police that she answered a knock on the door from someone claiming to be her son. Instead, a Black male grabbed and choked her as he pushed her into the bedroom where he bound one of her hands, attempted to smother her with a pillow, and sexually assaulted her. She also reported to police that the attacker returned a month later and threatened to kill her. Records withheld from Talley’s trial attorneys revealed that Victim 3 had a blood alcohol concentration of .34 around the time of the incident.

Case status: Talley exonerated.

June 24, 1981

Victim 4 (White female), a LaGrange College student, was in the basement of a church where she worked 1.5 miles from campus and just blocks from Victim 3’s home when a Black male grabbed her from behind, threatened her, choked her, dragged her into an adjoining room, punched her in the mouth and sexually assaulted her. Victim 4 never saw the attacker, but described him as having a “Negro smell” with medium build and “good diction.” The mother of Victim 4 also reported that a male made a threatening phone call to their house the next day and stated she could tell the caller was Black by his voice. Male DNA from this victim’s rape kit was eventually tested in 2009, which excluded Talley as the perpetrator and confirmed his innocence in this case.

Case status: Talley exonerated (Conviction overturned in 2013).

June 30, 1981

Victim 5 (Black female) was working at a medical center near campus when a Black male grabbed her neck from behind and dragged her into an adjacent room. The attacker turned off the lights and ordered her to remove her pants. Victim 5 reported that he stopped and fled before sexually assaulting her once he realized she was menstruating.

Case status: Conviction intact; Under review for potential exoneration.

July 21, 1981

On this day, Victim 6 (Asian female) reported to the LaGrange Police Department (LGPD) that a Black male had knocked on her door in April, offering her money. She reported that when she tried to close the door, he took her by the arm and tried to enter her home.  She reported that he then saw her child and left without further incident.  Victim 6 reported the April incident to police on July 21st after seeing the man again, and identified the man as Terry Talley. 

Talley was arrested on July 21 and freely admitted to being present at Victim 6’s house and offering her money for sex several months earlier. Talley was initially charged by police with simple battery, but in the context of the serial rape allegations, prosecutors charged Talley with aggravated assault with intent to rape for this incident, and he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Case status: Conviction intact; Under review for overcharging / excessive sentence.

November 9, 1981

First trial, involving the April 19, 1981 incident. Terry was convicted and sentenced to life.

November 10, 1981

Second trial, involving the June 24, 1981 incident. Terry was convicted and sentenced to a consecutive life sentence the following day

November 11, 1981

Terry pled guilty to the 3 remaining violent sexual assaults and the attempt to pay for sex. 

Wrongful Convictions

Under immense pressure from the community to solve the serial rape crimes, authorities quickly zeroed in on Talley as the primary suspect after he told police he was indeed attempting to to pay Victim 6 for sex. In the wake of the serial rape cases, neighbors had commented to police canvassing area that they had seen a Black man looking for yard work, and Talley also told police he routinely knocked on doors looking for yard work. That was all the evidence police needed. 

Despite nothing actually tying Talley to any of the violent crime scenes, lead investigators from the LGPD and the Georgia Bureau of Investigations (GBI) put him in photographic and in-person lineups. Victims and neighbors were brought in one by one, within minutes of each other, to identify Talley –even though nearly all of them previously had identified other suspects. The witnesses identified him with varying levels of confidence, some by his physical appearance, some by his voice, and others simply by a process of elimination. Records documenting the procedures were inconsistent and contradictory. For example, a handwritten note says one victim “thinks” that Talley was the man she saw in the neighborhood around the time of one of the crimes, but she was “not positive,” noting that “if any of them [in the lineup] were him, it was [Talley].” However, the police report documenting this attempted identification, omits that she was tentative and instead says she “identified Talley.”

The State then promptly arrested and charged Talley in all five serial rape cases. While Talley quickly admitted he knocked on Victim 6’s door and offered her money for sex, he adamantly denied involvement in the distinctly different and brutally violent attacks against Victims 1-5. He vowed to fight the cases and prove his innocence.

How did Terry Talley get convicted of so many crimes when there was so little evidence of guilt? His story is yet another tragic example of how “presumption of innocence” and “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” mean different things to jurors depending on the race of the defendant.

The first trial, involving Victim 3, convened only three months later and lasted one day, from jury selection to verdict. The key evidence against Talley was Victim 3’s confidence that Talley was indeed the assailant, despite the fact that she could not identify Talley in photos even as he sat nearby in court. Police told the jury that Victim 3 had never attempted to identify anyone before Talley, even though she had tentatively identified an alternate suspect. Police told the jury they had no reason to doubt her identification of Talley, even though they withheld the fact that she had a shockingly high .34 blood alcohol concentration at the time of the incident. Assured of Victim 3’s credibility and identification, the jury convicted, and Talley was sentenced to life in prison. 

The very next day, Talley again fought to prove his innocence in a second trial, this one involving Victim 4. The trial took one day until deliberations, and drew from the same jury pool. Victim 4 had not closely seen the assailant but she described him as having a “Negro smell” with medium build and “good diction.” Victim 4 had tentatively identified Talley by his “voice,” and Talley testified that he was asked to say different words than the other people in the lineup. White neighbors identified Talley as being the man that they saw looking for yard work in the neighborhood where the attack occurred. Based on those identifications, Talley was again convicted and sentenced to life in prison. 

Talley was despondent. Defeated in the realization that his innocence would not lead to his acquittal, Talley then pled to the remaining charges and has been incarcerated for the past 40 years, all the while maintaining his innocence.

Exonerations

Twenty-three years after his conviction, Georgia Innocence Project accepted Talley’s case for review. In 2008, based on new scientific advancements in DNA technology, GIP filed a motion for post-conviction DNA testing on Victim 4’s rape kit–the only case in which GIP could locate any remaining physical evidence.  The rape kit contained DNA from a single male and a single female, and Talley was excluded as the contributor of the male DNA.

Though the DNA could not be uploaded to databases like CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) to potentially match to the actual perpetrator, it was enough to definitively conclude that Terry Talley did not sexually assault Victim 4. In 2013, Troup County Superior Court Judge Baldwin granted Talley’s Extraordinary Motion for New Trial on Case 4. Though that conviction was vacated, the indictment was not dismissed and Talley remained imprisoned on the remaining charges for another eight years, stymied by lost or destroyed evidence and shifting State theories.

In 2018 and 2019, GIP was able to hire staff attorneys, an investigator, and a case analyst who could focus dedicated time and resources to building upon the significant and compelling work done by former GIP staff, interns, and volunteers over the years. Also over several years, GIP consulted with DNA scientist Dr. Greg Hampikian at the DNA laboratory at Boise State University's Forensic DNA Analysis project, which operates under a Department of Justice grant.

Through partnership with the LaGrange Police Department, GIP initiated a comprehensive review of all six cases and any related case files from the time. GIP conducted several additional witness interviews and investigations. Ultimately, new information emerged that cast even more significant doubt on Talley’s convictions. GIP shared this information with LaGrange Police Chief Lou Dekmar and Coweta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Herb Cranford, Jr., who agreed that the convictions were no longer in the interest of justice.  Even while continuing to review the fifth of the serial rape cases for potential exoneration, District Attorney Cranford promptly joined GIP in securing the four exonerations and Talley’s long-awaited freedom on February 23, 2021.

Terry’s freedom is far too long overdue, but GIP is very grateful that the LaGrange Police Department and District Attorney Cranford had the courage to take a hard look at the lack of evidence against him and acted to try to right these historical wrongs,” said GIP Managing Attorney Jennifer Whitfield. “Our fight for justice for Terry will continue until the last two cases are resolved.” 

Terry’s freedom is far too long overdue, but GIP is very grateful that the LaGrange Police Department and District Attorney Cranford had the courage to take a hard look at the lack of evidence against him and acted to try and right these historical wrongs. However, our fight will continue until the last two cases are resolved.

Scientific advances helped uncover Talley’s wrongful convictions and free him from prison. In 2009, new DNA technology–not available in 1981 when Talley was convicted–proved Talley did not commit one of the violent sexual assaults and provided the thread by which all the other cases unraveled. In most old cases, however, the physical evidence cannot be tested because it has long since disappeared or been destroyed, as in all but one of Talley’s cases. 

Advancements in the science and psychology of eyewitness identification and memory malleability also provide a tool to analyze older cases like Talley’s for potential wrongful convictions. Talley’s exonerations demonstrate the urgent need to reevaluate these eyewitness identification cases and their scientific bases. We hope that his story encourages other Georgia officials to also strive to correct and prevent wrongful convictions in their jurisdictions.

UPDATES

No posts found.