On August 30, 1981, the body of Carolyn Armstrong was found on a dirt road in Navarro County, Texas. The 21-year-old woman was found naked from the waist down with forty stab wounds to her neck and chest. When investigators located the deceased’s vehicle several miles from the murder scene, they found a black hair net and a partially smoked joint, evidence which could lead to the young woman’s murderer.
At the same time of Armstrong’s murder, Randy Arledge of Houston, was in the area visiting family. Arledge returned to Houston the day after the murder, met up with Bennie Lamas and Paula Lucas, took a road trip to Tennessee with the two where the three were then arrested in connection with an armed robbery.
These three suspects were eventually returned to Texas where Arledge was charged with the murder of Carolyn Armstrong. Unfortunately for Arledge, both Lamas and Lucas testified that he had told them he had murdered a woman in Corsicana, Texas. Despite the fact Arledge had alibis from several witnesses and there was no physical evidence tying him to the case other than his two cohorts in crime testimonies, he was convicted of murder and sentenced to 99 years in prison.
In 2011, the Innocence Project, with the cooperation of the Navarro County District Attorney’s Office, was able to secure DNA testing of the physical evidence in the Armstrong murder case, testing which excluded Arledge in Carolyn Armstrong’s murder.
However, when a CODIS DNA database search was conducted, the DNA testing results did match the DNA of a convicted felon, David Sims. Sims had worked in the area where the victim was last seen alive and when confronted, admitted he wore hairnets at work. Sims had previously pled no contest to a 1985 attempted murder of a Dallas woman who was stabbed over 90 times. Sims is now being investigated for murdering Carolyn Armstrong.
Why would Lamas and Lucas provide false testimony to implicate a man in a murder he did not commit? Both Lamas and Lucas received a plea deal for testifying against Randy Arledge in Carolyn Armstrong’s murder trial. They made a deal with the prosecution to lighten their own sentencing, a practice, according to the Innocence Project, that happens quite often.
According to the Innocence Project, in “more than 15 % of wrongful conviction cases overturned through DNA testing, an informant testified against the defendant at the original trial.” Many times these informants had incentives – incentives that are not disclosed to the jury – to testify against the defendant, incentives that include a reduced prison sentence, avoidance of incarceration or even money.
At times, as in the case of Randy Arledge, the incentivized witness testimonies are the only evidence of guilt, and, although false, these testimonies assist in convicting innocent people of crimes they never committed.
On February 11, 2013, based on DNA testing evidence, Randy Arledge was released from prison on bond, and then on May 3, 2013, he was officially exonerated by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals after spending more than thirty years in prison, fourteen of them for a murder he did not commit.