John Brown is currently serving a life sentence for a crime he did not commit. In 1992, he was convicted, along with Tina Jimerson, Reginald Early, and Charlie Vaughn, for the rape and brutal murder of Myrtle Holmes.
After 78-year-old Myrtle Holmes was found sexually assaulted and brutally murdered in her home in Fordyce, Arkansas, it took two separate trials to convict Brown. The State’s case was reliant on the conflicted testimony of alleged accomplice Charlie Vaughn. During the first trial, the prosecutor was unable to convince the jury of Brown’s guilt. After deliberating for five days, the jury ultimately split six-to-six, and the court declared a mistrial. In the second trial, critical DNA evidence that excluded Brown and Vaughn as contributors to DNA collected from the victim’s vaginal swabs was omitted. While the evidence excluded Brown and Vaughn, it included Early as a potential perpetrator. The inclusion of the DNA evidence significantly harmed Early and helped Jimerson and Brown, but Jimerson and Early were represented by the same attorney at trial.
Vaughn’s unreliable testimony was crucial to Brown’s conviction. Vaughn became a suspect when a private citizen and former law enforcement officer, Michael Joe Earley, provided Vaughn’s name to police. Earley worked hand-in-hand with law enforcement throughout the investigation. In exchange, Earley received a $5,000 reward for closing the case. Earley told police that his own informant, Taura Bryant, reported Vaughn committed the crime. Vaughn repeatedly denied any knowledge of the crimes and refused to answer questions each time police tried to interview him. Even when Vaughn was arrested in April of 1990, he refused to give a statement. A few months later, because Vaughn was illiterate, he had a friend write a letter to an attorney explaining he did not have money for a lawyer, but had no knowledge of the crimes for which he had been arrested.
It wasn’t until March 1991 that Vaughn abruptly gave a statement confessing to the crime. The next day, Vaughn pleaded guilty to committing the crime with Brown and Early as the co-perpetrators in the rape and murder and alleged that Jimerson had driven them to the victim’s home. His confession was confused and inconsistent; he changed his report of the alleged murder weapon mid-testimony. He also claimed that the group had gone looking for Ms. Holmes’ house despite the fact that none of the defendants knew her, and she did not know them. Vaughn’s statement, which he recanted on the stand at both trials of his co-defendants, was the only direct evidence of Brown’s guilt. Vaughn testified that he was not involved in the murder of Ms. Holmes and that he only mentioned Brown, Jimerson and Early because he was told to do so and had been threatened with the death penalty.
The most conclusive proof of Brown’s innocence is a full confession by Reginald Early. In December of 2015, Early confessed in grisly detail to raping, robbing, and murdering Ms. Holmes alone. His confession is corroborated by physical and forensic evidence and emphasizes that Early did not know John Brown or spend time with him. Early testified at a federal habeas hearing for co-defendant Tina Jimerson in June 2016, where he again swore under oath that he was the sole perpetrator of the murder of Ms. Holmes.
The Midwest Innocence Project now represents John Brown, and we’ve filed the petition for federal habeas relief below. Support the work of MIP in freeing innocent individuals like John Brown by donating here.